Posted by: Indonesian Children | May 21, 2009

The long-term impact of early speech, language and communication difficulties

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Speech, language and communication difficulties can have a profound and lasting effect on children’s lives. For a small percentage of children their disability cannot be prevented, but early intervention is just as vital as for those with less severe difficulties to help give a child the best possible support that they need. The impact of these difficulties will vary according to the severity of the problem, the support the child receives, the child’s confidence and the demands of the child’s environment. This page pulls together research findings on the consequences of speech and language impairment for children and young people in order to highlight the seriousness of the issue overall. References are listed at the end.


  • Young children with speech and language impairments are at risk for continued communication problems, as well as for associated cognitive, academic, behavioural, social and psychiatric difficulties (Bashir & Scavuzzo, 1992).
  • The initial pattern of speech and/or language deficits is related to overall prognosis. Children whose impairments involve only articulation/phonology generally fare better than those whose impairments involve language [processing] (Beitchman et al., 1994)


Social and behavioural problems


  • Children with specific language impairment (SLI) have been reported to experience concurrent difficulties in the area of social and behavioral development (Redmond & Rice, 1998). This has often been thought to arise from such factors as frustration, peer rejection, and lack of confidence in the face of poor linguistic skills.
  • Studies have shown that substantial proportions of children with SLI experience social and behavioural problems as they reach high school age and that these problems increase over time (Redmond & Rice, 2002).


Withdrawn behaviour

  • Many children with SLI appear to show withdrawn social interaction styles. This may include being less likely to initiate conversation, playing alone, and being liked less by others in the class (Coster, Goorhuis-Brouwer, Nakken, & Spelberg, 1999).
  • Paul and Kellogg (1997) found that children with slow expressive development at 2 years of age were rated as shyer and less outgoing than peers when followed up at 6 years of age.
  • Poor interaction and increased withdrawal may also lead to poor self-esteem, as some studies have found this to be a feature of older but not younger children with language difficulties (Jerome, Fujiki, Brinton, & James, 2002).
  • Children with early language impairment have significantly higher rates of anxiety disorder in young adulthood compared with non-impaired children. The majority of participants with anxiety disorders had a diagnosis of social phobia (Beitchman et al, 2001).

Aggressive behaviour

  • Behavioral difficulties of an aggressive nature have been reported as showing increased prevalence in young children with speech and language impairment (Carson, Klee, Perry, Muskina, & Donaghy, 1998).
  • In the epidemiological study by Beitchman and colleagues (1996), nearly half of the 5-year-old speech-language-impaired group was found to have behavioural disorders, of which attention-hyperactivity difficulties were the main source.

Difficulty relating to others

  • Even in a preschool setting, children with language difficulties are less likely than peers to be chosen as friendship partners (Gertner, Rice, and Hadley, 1994).
  • Language impaired children are at risk of being the target of bullies at school (Conti-Ramsden and Botting, 2004).

Learning difficulties

  • Comprehension difficulties make children very vulnerable in relation to education (Hooper et al 2003)
  • Early language impairment (rather than speech impairment) is clearly associated with continued academic difficulties into adulthood. (Young et al, 2002)
  • Tomblin, Zhang, Buckwalter, and Catts (2000) found that children with language impairment were at risk of both reading and behavioral problems and, furthermore, that the behavioral difficulties were associated with the reading impairments. Levels of frustration, misunderstanding, and inability to access the curriculum could result in subsequent aggressive behaviour, as could failure to understand other children and adults.
“Literacy difficulties in adolescents tend to contribute to language disorders as adolescents get a lot of higher language development input from what they read: if they read little, they also tend to not develop language as fast as their more literate peers. Consequently, even children who appear to have normal language development can have literacy difficulties and develop language impairments as they grow older.”

– Helen Stringer, School of Education, Communication & Language Sciences, Newcastle University


  • High levels of speech, language and communication difficulties are found among the young offender population (Bryan, 2004).
  • Low education and speech and literacy difficulties are risk factors for offending (Tomblin, 2000).
“There are thousands of children and young people effectively disabled by speech, language and communication impairments.There’s a progression between this “hidden disability”, exclusion from school and young adults ending up in trouble, and it starts early. We need to spot and offer provision for these impairments as early as possible.”

– Linda Lascelles, Chief Executive, Afasic

Lasting impact

  • Speech and language impairment identified at age five has long-lasting effects. In one study more than 72% of children who had SLI at age 5 remained impaired at age 12. (Beitchman et al, 1994)
  • Social and behavioral difficulties are not a short-term problem for children with speech and language impairment. To the contrary, social difficulties appear to increase. A large cohort of 242 children who had been attending infant language units at 7 years of age was followed up when the children were in their final year of primary school (aged 11). More than half of the children were showing clinical-level difficulties. (Conti-Ramsden and Botting, 2004)
  • A study of young adults who were initially identified as having SLI at age 5 and subsequently followed at ages 12 and 19 found: (a) high rates of continued communication difficulties in those with a history of impairment; (b) considerable stability in language performance over time; (c) better long-term outcomes for those with initial speech impairments than for those with language impairments; and (d) more favourable prognoses for those with specific language impairments than for those with impairments secondary to sensory, structural, neurological, or cognitive deficits (Johnson et al 1999).


  • Bashir, Anthony S., & Scavuzzo, Annebelle. (1992). Children with language disorders: Natural history and academic success. Journal of Learning Disabilities, 25 (1), 53-65.
  • Beitchman, J. H., Brownlie, E. B., Inglis, A., Wild, J., Matthews, R., Schachter, D., et al. (1994). Seven-year follow-up of speech/language impaired and control children: Speech/language stability and outcome. Journal of the American Academy of Child and Adolescent Psychiatry, 33, 1322-1330.
  • Beitchman, J. H., Wilson, B., Brownlie, E. B., Walters, H., Inglis, A., & Lancee, W. (1996). Long-term consistency in speech/language profiles: II. behavioural, emotional and social outcomes. Journal of the American Academy of Child and Adolescent Psychiatry, 35(6), 815-825.
  • Beitchman, J. H., Wilson, B., Johnson, C. J., Atkinson, L., Young, A., Adlaf, E., et al. (2001). Fourteen year follow-up of speech/language impaired children and control children: psychiatric outcome. Journal of the American Academy of Child and Adolescent Psychiatry, 40(1), 75-82.
  • Bryan, K. (2004) Preliminary study of the prelance of speech and language difficulties in young offenders. International Journal of Language and Communication Disorders; 39:3, 391-400.
  • Carson, D. K., Klee, T., Perry, C. K., Muskina, G., & Donaghy, T. (1998). Comparisons of children with delayed and normal language at 24 months of age on measures of behavioral difficulties, social and cognitive development. Infant Mental Health Journal, 19, 59-75.
  • Conti-Ramsden, G., & Botting, N. (2004). Social difficulties and victimisation in children with SLI at 11 years of age. Journal of Speech, Language and Hearing Research, 47(1), 145-172.
  • Coster, F.W, Goorhuis-Brouwer, S.M, Nakken, H, Lutje Spelberg H.C. (1999) Specific Language Impairments and Behavioural Problems. Folia Phoniatrica et Logopaedica, 51:99-107.
  • Gertner, B.L., Rice, M.L., & Hadley, P.A. (1994). Influence of communicative competence on peer preferences in a preschool classroom. Journal of Speech and Hearing Research, 37, 913-923.
  • Hooper, S J, Roberts J E, Zeisel, SA, and Poe, M. (2003). Core language predictors of behavioural functioning in early elementary school children: Concurrent and longitudinal findings. Behavioral Disorders, 29(1), 10-21.
  • Jerome AC, Fujiki M, Brinton B, James SL. (2002). Self-esteem in children with specific language impairment, Journal of Speech Language and Hearing Research Aug; 45(4): 700-14.
  • Johnson, C., Beitchman, J. H., Young, A. R., Escobar, M., Atkinson, L., Wilson, B., et al. (1999). Fourteen-year follow-up of children with and without speech/language impairments: Speech/language stability and outcomes. Journal of Speech, Language and Hearing Research, 42, 744-760.
  • Paul, R. & Kellogg, L. Temperament in late talkers. Journal of Child Psychology and Psychiatry, 38, (1997): 803-810.
  • Redmond, S.M. & Rice M.L. (1998) The socio-emotional behaviours of children with Speech and Language Impairment: Social adaption or social deviance? Journal of Speech, Language and Hearing Research, 41, 688-700
  • Redmond, S.M. & Rice, M.L. (2002). Stability of behavioral ratings of children with specific language impairment. Journal of Speech, Language, and Hearing Research, 45, 190-201.
  • Tomblin, J. B., Zhang, X., Buckwalter, P., & Catts, H. (2000). The association of reading disability, behavioural disorders and language impairment among second-grade children. Journal of child psychology and psychiatry, 41(4), 473-482.
  • Young, A. R., Beitchman, J. H., Johnson, C., Douglas, L., Atkinson, L., Escobar, M., et al. (2002). Young adult academic outcomes in a longitudinal sample of early identified language impaired and control children. Journal of Child Psychology and Psychiatry, 43(5), 635-645.


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Yudhasmara Foundation

JL Taman Bendungan Asahan 5 Jakarta Indonesia 102010

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Information on this web site is provided for informational purposes only and is not a substitute for professional medical advice. You should not use the information on this web site for diagnosing or treating a medical or health condition. You should carefully read all product packaging. If you have or suspect you have a medical problem, promptly contact your professional healthcare provider.

Copyright © 2009, Clinic For Children Information Education Network. All rights reserved.


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