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Pragmatic language and the child with emotional/behavioural difficulties (EBD): a pilot study exploring the interaction between behaviour and communication disability

Lookup NU author(s): Professor James LawORCiD


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Introduction: The relationship between mental health, behaviour and language development is widely recognized in the literature. Recent advances in assessment tools allows one to consider the role of pragmatic language skills in this co-occurrence.Aims: This pilot study aimed to investigate (1) the level of association between pragmatic language difficulties and emotional/behavioural difficulties; and (2) what explanations there might there be for any such association. The roles of language, word decoding, and non-verbal cognitive ability and also socio-demographic factors are considered.Method & Procedures: Seventeen participants aged 7-11 years were identified from Educational Psychologist caseloads as having behaviour that is causing concern at school. Comparisons were made with 16 age- and sex-matched controls. Participants' language, literacy and non-verbal cognitive ability were assessed at school. Parents and teachers completed questionnaires investigating communication skills, behaviour and emotional wellbeing.Outcomes & Results: No significant difference was found between the groups for non-verbal cognitive ability. However, children in the referred group were significantly more likely to have structural language, word decoding and pragmatic language difficulties and mothers with no further education beyond school. Taking a broad view of language skills to include structural language, pragmatic language and word decoding, 94% (n = 15) of referred children had significant difficulties with at least one of these three factors. The only factor not found on its own was structural language difficulties, indicating that on their own they are perhaps not associated with emotional/behavioural difficulties.Conclusions & Implications: The results of this pilot study have implications for how we view language and behaviour difficulties in primary schools. Future larger-scale research should consider the role of parenting factors, pragmatic language skills and literacy ability in the high co-existence rate of emotional/behavioural difficulties and language/communication needs.

Publication metadata

Author(s): Mackie L, Law J

Publication type: Article

Publication status: Published

Journal: International Journal of Language and Communication Disorders

Year: 2010

Volume: 45

Issue: 4

Pages: 397-410

Print publication date: 31/12/2010

ISSN (print): 1368-2822

ISSN (electronic): 1460-6984

Publisher: Informa Healthcare


DOI: 10.3109/13682820903105137


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