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Play and Prosociality are Associated with Fewer Externalising Problems in Children with Developmental Language Disorder: The Role of Early Language and Communication Environment

Research output: Contribution to journalArticle

Umar Toseeb, Jenny L Gibson, Dianne F. Newbury, Witold Orlik, Kevin Durkin, Andrew Pickles, Gina Conti-Ramsden

Original languageEnglish
Publication statusAccepted/In press - 25 Apr 2020


King's Authors


Background: Children with developmental language disorder (DLD) are at higher risk of poorer mental health compared to children without DLD. There are, however, considerable individual differences that need to be interpreted, including the identification of protective factors.

Aims: Pathways from the early language and communication environment (ELCE, 1-2 years) to internalising (peer and emotional problems) and externalising (conduct problems and hyperactivity) problems in middle childhood (11 years) were mapped using structural equation modelling. Specifically, the role of indirect pathways via social skills (friendships, play, and prosociality) in childhood (7-9 years) was investigated.

Methods and Procedures: Secondary analysis of existing data from the Avon Longitudinal Study of Parents and Children (ALSPAC) was undertaken. The study sample consisted of 6,531 children (394 with DLD).

Outcomes and Results: The pathways from the ELCE to internalising and externalising problems were similar for children with and without DLD. For both groups, a positive ELCE was associated with more competent social play and higher levels of prosociality in childhood, which in turn were associated with fewer externalising problems in middle childhood. Furthermore, better friendships and higher levels of prosociality in childhood were both associated with fewer internalising problems in middle childhood.

Conclusions and Implications: A child’s ELCE is potentially important not only for the development of language but also for social development. Furthermore, in the absence of adequate language ability, play and prosocial behaviours may allow children with DLD to deploy, practise, and learn key social skills, thus protecting against externalising problems. We suggest that consideration be given to play- and prosociality-based educational and therapeutic services for children with DLD.

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