Adolescents with a history of specific language impairment (SLI): strengths and difficulties in social, emotional and behavioral functioning

Gina Conti-Ramsden, Pearl L. H. Mok, Andrew Pickles, Kevin Durkin

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Adolescents with specific language impairment (SLI) are at a greater risk of emotional and behavioral problems compared to their typically developing (TD) peers, but little is known about their self-perceived strengths and difficulties. In this study, the self-reported social, emotional and behavioral functioning of 139 adolescents with a history of SLI and 124 TD individuals at age 16 was examined. The self-report version of the Strengths and Difficulties Questionnaire (SDQ) was used to assess their prosocial behavior and levels of peer, emotional and behavioral difficulties. Associations of these areas of functioning with gender, verbal and non-verbal skills were also investigated. Adolescents with a history of SLI were more likely than their TD peers to report higher levels of peer problems, emotional symptoms, hyperactivity and conduct problems. The majority of adolescents in both groups (87% SLI and 96% TD), however, reported prosocial behavior within the typical range. Difficulty with peer relations was the strongest differentiator between the groups, with the odds of reporting borderline or abnormally high levels of peer problems being 12 times higher for individuals with a history of SLI. Adolescents with poorer receptive language skills were also more likely to report higher levels of emotional and behavioral difficulties. The findings of this study identify likely traits that may lead to referral to services. 

Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)4161–4169
Number of pages9
JournalResearch in Developmental Disabilities
Issue number11
Publication statusPublished - Nov 2013


  • specific language impairment (SLI)
  • prosocial behavior
  • peer problems
  • emotional symptoms
  • conduct problems
  • hyperactivity

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