Monday, 8 June 2020

Mental health support for children with speech, language and communication needs: Getting parents’ perspectives

What is the role of children’s language problems in their mental health? How does having a language problem affect the sort of support children might receive for their mental wellbeing?

These are the questions being asked by researchers from the Universities of York and Greenwich. Mya Kalsi, Hannah Hobson, Umar Toseeb and Louise Cotton want to know what parents of children with speech, language and communication needs think about their access and experience of mental health support for their children.

Previous research has shown that children with language problems are overrepresented in mental health settings. In fact, half of children in mental health settings meet the criteria for language impairment1, and a third of children referred for emotional problems have an unsuspected language problem2. This paints a picture that many children who access and receive support for mental health problems have language difficulties. However, we do not know whether children’s language problems affect the support they receive. It might be that the presence of language and communication problems speeds up recognising other problems children might be experiencing – so language problems might actually help children’s emotional or behavioural problems get noticed faster. However, it might also be the case that some interventions for children’s mental well-being (such as talking therapies) aren’t accessible for children with language problems. Also, professionals might assume that attention should be focused on the child’s language issues, and that addressing their language problems will help resolve other problems children are experiencing. This might make it harder for families to get support for their children’s mental health.
We are hoping to hear from over 300 families of children with speech, language and communication needs in the UK and Ireland. We are especially interested in hearing from parents of children with Developmental Language Disorder (DLD), but would also like to hear from parents of children with a wide range of speech, language and communication needs, including children with autism or hearing problems too. 

To take part, you should: 
  • Be a parent of child who is aged between 4-16 years old, and your child has a speech, language or communication need 
  • Have at some time had some concern for your child’s mental health (you might not be worried any more – we would still like to hear from you!)

If families take part, they’ll be asked to complete some questions online. They’ll be asked a bit about themselves and their children’s language difficulties. They will also be asked whether they’ve sort help from school or their doctor for their child’s mental health problems. They’ll be asked if anything stopped them from asking or getting help, and if they did get support how they found it.  We want to hear about both the good and the bad – did therapists adapt the way they worked to support your child’s communication needs? What worked well, and what could have been better?

After we complete our survey, we hope to follow up with some more in-depth interviews to deeply investigate what would help support children with language difficulties and mental health problems best.

If you are a parent and would like to take part, you can read more about this study and complete the survey at:

If you have any questions or comments, or would be willing to help us spread the word about our survey, please get in touch with Hannah Hobson:

Further reading:
1.        Camarata, S., Hughes, C. A. & Ruhl, K. L. Mild/Moderate Behaviourally Disordered Students. Lang. Speech Hear. Serv. Sch. 19, 191–200 (1998).
2.        Cohen, N. J., Davine, M., Horodezky, N., Lipsett, L. & Isaacson, L. Unsuspected Language Impairment in Psychiatrically Disturbed Children: Prevalence and Langauge and Behavioral Characteristics. J. Am. Acad. Child Adolesc. Psychiatry 32, 595–603 (1993).

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