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Jason C. Chow, Ph.D.
University of Maryland at College Park

Some children with DLD not only have trouble with language but also with behavior. Their behavior problems may be especially noticeable in the classroom where language demands are high. Some might demonstrate aggression or defiance. Others might withdraw or become anxious. Others might have problems paying attention.

What can educators do to support language and behavior?

  • Recognize that language and behavior are related. The first and most important way we can support children with language and behavioral challenges is by recognizing that they can co-occur.
  • Understand that behavior is a form of communication. Challenging behavior can actually be a way for a child to communicate, especially when that child has DLD or other language challenges.
  • Communicate to ensure continuity of service. Children with DLD interact with many educators across the school day. These can be general education teachers, special education teachers, speech-language pathologists, behavior specialists, school psychologists, and paraprofessionals, to name a few. Communication among these service providers is essential.
  • Collaborate to ensure consistency of service. Behavioral consultants can play an important role in developing intervention plans that include behavioral goals. But collaboration between the consultant and other educators will be necessary to ensure that these goals are supported in all contexts throughout the day.

Children with DLD often show challenging behavior that gets in the way of instruction or intervention. Behavior supports and strategies can help. For example, a child who frequently acts out during instruction may respond to a reward-based token economy. The child receives a token for every five minutes of good behavior, and at the end of class, can trade in the tokens for small prizes. For a child that is often disengaged or distracted, a self-monitoring intervention might be useful. The child can rate their level of engagement at the end of each session and compare that rating to previous sessions. They can also set goals for the next session.

We should take a problem-solving approach to support behavior in the classroom so that the child can have access to instruction just like their peers do. We have the opportunity to do this by working together. Indeed, education is a collaborative effort that relies on many professionals and advocates to come together with a unified goal of supporting each and every child’s development and social success.

You can read more about specific classroom strategies to support children’s language development here.


Chow, J. C. (2018). Comorbid language and behavior problems: Development, frameworks, and intervention. School Psychology Quarterly, 33(3), 356-360.

Chow, J. C., & Hollo, A. E. (2021). Language skills of students with emotional and behavioral disorders. Intervention in School and Clinic, 10534512211047584.

Curtis, P. R., Frey, J. R., Watson, C. D., Hampton, L. H., & Roberts, M. Y. (2018). Language disorders and problem behaviors: A meta-analysis. Pediatrics, 142(2).

Yew, S. G. K., & O’Kearney, R. (2013). Emotional and behavioural outcomes later in childhood and adolescence for children with specific language impairments: Meta‐analyses of controlled prospective studies. Journal of Child Psychology and Psychiatry, 54(5), 516-524.