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Peer relationships and the wellbeing of children with Developmental Language Disorder



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Janik Blaskova, Lenka  ORCID logo


Children with Developmental Language Disorder (DLD) have difficulties expressing or understanding language without having any other neurodevelopmental condition or physical impairment. DLD places affected children at risk of many undesired developmental outcomes. Peer relationships of children with DLD are impacted the most; however, many children with DLD are accepted by their peers and report having good quality friendships. To understand the links between language and peer relationships of children with DLD, scholars have examined children’s language, behaviour, and other psychosocial attributes. Research findings, however, are inconclusive about the relative contribution of these factors, and what is more, they tend to overly rely on adult informants whose reports of children’s language, behaviours, and social functioning vary. This doctoral research project actively involved children with DLD and their peers to learn directly from children about their peer relationships. These aims were delivered through two parts – analytical research synthesis (systematised literature review) and primary data collection (series of case studies). Both parts helped answer the project’s research questions: 1. What are the within-child characteristics promoting the peer relationships of children with DLD? 2. What research methods facilitate the participation of children with DLD in studies about their peer relationships in school? A mixed methods approach was taken to combine quantitative and qualitative data. In part one, the analytical research synthesis, identified studies were reviewed and categorised based on the levels of children’s participation in the research. A narrative analysis synthetised the studies’ findings about the within-child characteristics contributing to the peer relationships of children with DLD. Part two was conducted as a series of case studies, where each child with DLD (n=14) represented a case. Data were collected via parent and teacher reports, observations, sociometric methods, interviews with a friend, and one-to-one meetings that involved language and nonverbal ability assessments, friendship, and wellbeing interviews. A child-centred approach was adopted, including visual supports and art-based tools, to facilitate children’s active engagement in one-on-one meetings. Part two data were analysed through within and cross-case analyses, framework analysis, and friendship formation assessment. Findings from both parts are brought together in a discussion answering the overarching research questions. This project identified that the quantity and quality of language and behaviours of children with DLD need to be considered as distinct contributors to their peer relationships. It further specified self-perception and self-awareness as within-child factors contributing to the peer relationships of children with DLD. Finally, this project revealed peer’s inclusive attitudes as within-child factors promoting the peer relationships of children with DLD. Regarding methods facilitating the participation of children with DLD in studies about their peer relationships, this project identified few studies directly involving children. There are, however, excellent examples of visual support and art-based methods supporting the participation of children with DLD in research. This project updates our knowledge and existing models linking language and children’s social adjustments by identifying within-child factors that need to be considered in future studies. It further demonstrates that it is possible to elicit the voice of children with DLD in studies about their social lives. Together with their peers, children reveal factors that are meaningful to them and their peer relationships. These findings have direct implications for the social inclusion of children with DLD in school, their speech and language therapy outcomes, and future research. Children with DLD and their peers need to be considered as active agents in matters that impact their social lives.





Gibson, jenny


peer relationships, wellbeing, children, social inclusion, primary school, language disorder, child voice, participatory research, case study


Doctor of Philosophy (PhD)

Awarding Institution

University of Cambridge
LEGO Foundation (unknown)
Cambridge Trust; LEGO Foundation