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Keywords:

  • Speech-language impairment;
  • psychiatric disorder;
  • psychosocial outcomes;
  • SLI;
  • adolescence

Background:  Evidence suggests there is a heightened risk of psychiatric disorder in children with speech-language impairments. However, not all forms of language impairment are strongly associated with psychosocial difficulty, and some psychiatric disorders (e.g., attention deficit/hyperactivity disorder (ADHD)) are more prevalent than others in language-impaired populations. The present study assessed the psychosocial adjustment in adolescence of young people with history of speech-language impairment, and investigated specific relationships between language deficits and psychiatric disorders.

Methods:  Seventy-one young people (aged 15–16 years) with a preschool history of speech-language impairment were assessed using a psychiatric interview (K-SADS) supplemented by questionnaires probing social encounters and parental reports of behaviour and attention. Their psycho-social adjustment was compared with that of a cross-sectional control group of age-matched controls.

Results:  Overall the rate of psychiatric disorder was low in the clinical sample and children whose language delay had resolved by 5.5 years had a good outcome. For those whose language difficulties persisted through the school years, there was a raised incidence of attention and social difficulties. These difficulties were partially independent and associated with different language profiles. The group with attention problems showed a profile of specific expressive language difficulties; the group with social difficulties had receptive and expressive language difficulties; and the group with both attention and social difficulties was of low IQ with global language difficulties.

Conclusions:  Amongst children with speech-language delays at 5.5 years, those with more severe and persistent language difficulties and low nonverbal IQ are at higher risk of psychiatric morbidity in adolescence.