Erin Smolak, Ph.D.
Boys Town National Research Hospital
People with developmental language disorder (DLD)  may also have other developmental problems. When one person has two or more problems it is called co-morbidity. One common co-morbidity for people with DLD is emotional-behavioral disorder.
What are Emotional and Behavioral Disorders?
Emotional and behavioral disorders include depression disorder, anxiety, or conduct disorder. A sign of these disorders is inappropriate behavior and emotions. People may show sadness, anger, or disobedience. Most people are sad or angry some of the time, but people with emotional-behavioral disorders experience these emotions often. It can be difficult to cope with these negative emotions. But therapists can help.
DLD and Emotional and Behavioral Disorders
Children with DLD are more likely to be diagnosed with an emotional and behavioral disorder than children without DLD. It is estimated that 15 to 30 percent of children with DLD may have clinical behavioral problems. We don’t know why these disorders happen together so often. They might have the same genetic cause. Or, children with DLD might have emotional or behavioral problems because they have a hard time communicating. Imagine how frustrating it could be if you had a hard time understanding people or expressing yourself. Children with DLD are also often targets of bullying, which can be very stressful and frustrating.
Parents and professionals should look for signs of multiple disorders. If a child has been diagnosed with a conduct disorder, for example, a co-morbid language problem may not be noticed. This is because the child’s behavior problem is so noticeable This child might also have trouble benefitting from therapies designed to help children with conduct disorder. Sometimes behavioral therapies involve language that is too difficult for a child with DLD to understand. The psychologist might want to use simpler language. A speech-language pathologist might provide additional support.
This idea works the other way, too. If a child with DLD is in language therapy, the speech-language pathologist should look for signs of emotional or behavioral problems. That child might need help from a psychologist, too.
It is important for both clinicians and parents to know about co-morbidities. If you wonder if your child has a language disorder, contact a Speech-Language Pathologist (at https://find.asha.org/pro#f:@Provider=[Speech-Language%20Pathologist] ). To know if your child may have an emotional and behavioral problem, contact your primary care doctor.
- Benner, G. J., Nelson, J. R., & Epstein, M. H. (2002). Language skills of children with EBD: A literature review. Journal of Emotional and Behavioral Disorders, 10, 43–56.
- Durkin, K., & Conti-Ramsden, G. (2010). Young people with specific language impairment: A review of social and emotional functioning in adolescence. Child Language Teaching and Therapy, 26, 105–121.
- Redmond, S. M., & Rice, M. L. (1998). The socioemotional behaviors of children with SLI: Social adaptation or social deviance?. Journal of Speech, Language, and Hearing Research, 41, 688–700.
- St Clair, M. C., Pickles, A., Durkin, K., & Conti-Ramsden, G. (2011). A longitudinal study of behavioral, emotional and social difficulties in individuals with a history of specific language impairment (SLI). Journal of communication disorders, 44(2), 186–199.