The Social Side of Developmental Language Disorder: Peer Interaction Skills During Childhood
: (Alternative Format Thesis)

  • Vanessa Lloyd-Esenkaya

Student thesis: Doctoral ThesisPhD


Developmental Language Disorder (DLD) is a lifelong condition affecting approximately 7.6% of the population. DLD is defined by clinical difficulties using and understanding language, in the absence of any other known developmental or genetic condition. The following thesis documents the social interaction characteristics of primary school children with DLD and explores predictors of social skills among children with Language Disorders, including DLD.
Research into the social development of children with DLD is in its infancy. Chapter 1 presents a systematic review of the literature to date which measures peer interaction skills in primary school children with DLD. Chapter 1 highlights key avenues of research to extend further, to gain a more detailed understanding of the strengths and difficulties that children with DLD encounter during peer interactions. While peer problems are common among children with DLD, the social skills of children with DLD are nevertheless heterogenous. Therefore, this thesis investigates potential predictors of social skills among children with DLD. First, parents of children with Language Disorders and staff at the specialist schools they attend, provide possible explanations for the social behaviours of these children in a qualitative study in Chapter 2. Next, the explanations parents and school staff provide are used to devise a new experimental toolkit in Chapter 3, to explore these ideas objectively. The toolkit is then used to measure intrinsic skills associated with social development in an empirical study in Chapter 4, of primary school children with and without DLD. This thesis also considers the role of the external environment on the social development of children with DLD. Chapter 5 presents an analysis of a population cohort to investigate whether the presence of older siblings and school placement type predicts social skills in children at risk of DLD.
The findings of every chapter are discussed together in Chapter 6. Overall, the current thesis replicates previous findings showing elevated social problems in children with DLD. It also replicates research showing children with DLD to have poor emotional functioning skills. It makes a valuable contribution to the literature by providing a new experimental toolkit, which does not require participants to use their language skills to complete the tasks. Therefore, this toolkit is suitable for children with Language Disorders. Furthermore, many novel findings are reported. Children with Language Disorders may use social withdrawal as a coping strategy to create time for information processing, and to prevent further language processing. Poor emotional functioning skills predict weak social skills and a preference for assertive conflict resolution styles predicts higher social skills. The presence of older siblings does not predict social skills in children at risk of DLD, but school placement does influence their social skills. Clinicians and school staff should support children with DLD in their social development. New social skills interventions for children with DLD may need to focus on children’s emotional recognition, inference and regulation skills.
Date of Award24 Mar 2021
Original languageEnglish
Awarding Institution
  • University of Bath
SupervisorMichelle St Clair (Supervisor) & Ailsa Russell (Supervisor)


  • Developmental Language Disorder
  • Specific Language Impairment
  • Social
  • Childhood
  • Peer interactions
  • socio-emotional development

Cite this