Making Friends: Social Difficulties in Children with Language Delays
Children with language difficulties have smaller friend groups than do their peers with typical language skills.
What is DLD?
Many children struggle with understanding and using language. For example, they might have trouble following directions, understanding fast-paced conversations, and expressing complex ideas. This is known as developmental language disorder (or DLD). While teachers and speech therapists often think about how these difficulties might impact children’s academic skills, we now know that these language difficulties can also impact children’s social skills as well. Children who experience language difficulties frequently spend less time talking to peers, are less likely to respond when a peer speaks to them, and find it tough to resolve disagreements calmly. This is not surprising, as all of these activities require them to use language in complex ways – exactly the skills children with DLD struggle with.
What did the study involve?
In the current study, the researchers were interested to learn whether children with language difficulties have smaller friend networks within their class than do children without language difficulties. The researchers interviewed 56 teachers about the students in their classes, for a total of 424 children between the ages of 2 and 5 years old. Teachers rated how frequently each child in their classes played with each other student in the class in order to determine the size of each child’s friendship network.
What did they find?
The results of this study showed that children with language difficulties had significantly fewer friendships within their classes than did children without language difficulties. They also had significantly fewer friendships than children with developmental disabilities other than language difficulties. Importantly, in more connected classrooms, where many children were friends with one another, children with language delays were less isolated than in classrooms that were less connected.
What does this mean for my child?
For children who are experiencing language difficulties, it is important for speech therapists and teachers to work directly on helping these children to use language to develop friendships and interact with other children. Additionally, it may be helpful for teachers to consider ways to facilitate friendships between all children in their classrooms. If your child is experiencing language learning difficulties, consider discussing friendship formation with your speech therapist.
Chen, J., Justice, L. M., Rhoad‐Drogalis, A., Lin, T. J., & Sawyer, B. (2018). Social Networks of Children With Developmental Language Disorder in Inclusive Preschool Programs. Child development.