Exploring the psychosocial experiences of individuals with Developmental Language Disorder during childhood: a qualitative investigation

Annabel Burnley, Michelle St Clair, Charlotte Dack, Hannah Thompson, Yvonne Wren

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review


Children with Developmental Language Disorder (DLD) often experience co-occurring psychosocial difficulties, the developmental trajectories of which are still not fully understood. This study sought to explore the manifestation of such difficulties during childhood, through first-hand accounts of those with DLD and their close relatives.
Individual semi-structured interviews were conducted with 11 mothers of children with DLD (aged 6-12 years old) and were analysed alongside the secondary data from interviews of five adults with DLD. Interviews were conducted online; all participants resided in Europe and were fluent in spoken and written English.
A process of interpretive phenomenological analysis resulted in the development of five overall themes: experiencing anxiety, social frustrations, maintaining factors, childhood strengths and the parenting experience. Cognitive appraisals appeared particularly important during childhood in both escalating and maintaining anxiety, low self-esteem, emotion dysregulation and social frustrations. High levels of isolation and stress were experienced by all mothers.
The findings suggest parents in the United Kingdom and Ireland require more support and guidance at the point of diagnosis than is currently provided. Emphasis was given to the link between children’s experience of anxiety and social behaviours, such as withdrawal, as well as their intolerance of uncertainty. Internalising symptoms were a prioritisation for intervention during childhood by both parents and adults with DLD.
Original languageEnglish
Number of pages20
JournalJournal of Autism and Developmental Disorders
Publication statusPublished - 20 Jun 2023

Bibliographical note

Funding Information:
The authors have no conflicts of interest to declare, including no financial nor non-financial interests. The authors would like to thank the families involved in the project, as well as theApplied Research Collaboration (ARC) West (National Institute of Health Research), and the University of Bath, who jointly funded the project.


  • Developmental Language Disorder
  • specific language impairment (SLI)
  • Parents
  • Children
  • Psychosocial difficulties

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • Clinical Psychology
  • Developmental and Educational Psychology


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