Investigating the role of specific prosocial behaviours in protecting against mental health difficulties in children with Developmental Language Disorder

Supervisor: Dr Umar Toseeb

A) Rationale for the project

Developmental Language Disorder (DLD) is characterised by difficulties in the ability to use and learn spoken language (Conti-Ramsden, St Clair, Pickles, & Durkin, 2012). Affected children have problems putting words together to formulate sentences (expressive language) and/or understanding the words that are being said (receptive language). The prevalence of DLD is ~7% (Norbury et al., 2016)
Prosocial behaviours are conducive to positive social relations. Prosocial children are more accepted and more popular among their peers (Asher & Coie, 1990; Zimmer-Gembeck, Geiger, & Crick, 2005). In turn, prosociality is protective against psychosocial difficulties (Coulombe & Yates, 2018; Griese & Buhs, 2014; Troop-Gordon & Unhjem, 2018). More specifically, for children and adolescents with DLD, again, being prosocial is protective against psychosocial difficulties (Conti-Ramsden & Durkin, 2016; Mok, Pickles, Durkin, & Conti-Ramsden, 2014; Toseeb, Pickles, Durkin, Botting, & Conti-Ramsden, 2017; Toseeb & St Clair, in prep). Recent work has shown that in a sample of children with DLD, prosocial behaviours are protective against subsequent psychosocial difficulties (Toseeb et al., in press). Much less attention has been focussed on which specific prosocial behaviours are protective against mental health difficulties and why. An investigation into specific prosocial behaviours will allow for the identification of the strengths and weaknesses in children with DLD. Once specific prosocial behaviours have been identified, it will advance our understanding of the antecedents of mental health difficulties in children with DLD.

B) References that should be read (if you do not have access to these, please email

Asher, S. R., & Coie, J. D. (1990). Peer rejection in childhood. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press.

Conti-Ramsden, G., & Durkin, K. (2016). Language impairment and adolescent outcomes. In K. Durkin & H. R. Schaffer (Eds.), The Wiley Handbook of Developmental Psychology in Practice: Implementation and Impact. Oxford: Wiley-Blackwell.

Conti-Ramsden, G., St Clair, M. C., Pickles, A., & Durkin, K. (2012). Developmental Trajectories of Verbal and Nonverbal Skills in Individuals With a History of Specific Language Impairment: From Childhood to Adolescence. Journal of Speech Language and Hearing Research, 55(6), 1716-1735. doi:10.1044/1092-4388(2012/10-0182)

Coulombe, B. R., & Yates, T. M. (2018). Prosocial pathways to positive adaptation: The mediating role of teacher-child closeness. Journal of Applied Developmental Psychology, 58, 9-17. doi:

Griese, E. R., & Buhs, E. S. (2014). Prosocial Behavior as a Protective Factor for Children's Peer Victimization. Journal of Youth and Adolescence, 43(7), 1052-1065. doi:10.1007/s10964-013-0046-y

Mok, P. L. H., Pickles, A., Durkin, K., & Conti-Ramsden, G. (2014). Longitudinal trajectories of peer relations in children with specific language impairment. Journal of Child Psychology and Psychiatry, 55(5), 516-527. doi:10.1111/jcpp.12190

Norbury, C. F., Gooch, D., Wray, C., Baird, G., Charman, T., Simonoff, E., . . . Pickles, A. (2016). The impact of nonverbal ability on prevalence and clinical presentation of language disorder: evidence from a population study. Journal of Child Psychology and Psychiatry, 57(11), 1247-1257. doi:10.1111/jcpp.12573

Toseeb, U., Pickles, A., Durkin, K., Botting, N., & Conti-Ramsden, G. (2017). Prosociality from early adolescence to young adulthood: A longitudinal study of individuals with a history of language impairment. Res Dev Disabil, 62, 148-159. doi:

Toseeb, U., & St Clair, M. C. (in prep). Trajectories of prosociality in primary school children at risk of Developmental Language Disorder.

Troop-Gordon, W., & Unhjem, L. (2018). Is preventing peer victimization sufficient? The role of prosocial peer group treatment in children's socioemotional development. Social Development, 27(3), 619-635. doi:doi:10.1111/sode.12283

Zimmer-Gembeck, M. J., Geiger, T. C., & Crick, N. R. (2005). Relational and physical aggression, prosocial behavior, and peer relations - Gender moderation and bidirectional associations. Journal of Early Adolescence, 25(4), 421-452. doi:10.1177/0272431605279841

C) Research aims / questions

  1. How do children with DLD compare to those without DLD on different prosocial behaviours?
  2. How are these effects (1) different for children in primary and secondary school?
  3. To what extent are specific prosocial behaviours associated with better mental health outcomes in children with DLD?
  4. How are these effects (3) different for children with and without DLD?

D) Methods

Children with DLD and their parents (and those without as controls) will be recruited from schools and local support services.  Parents and children will be asked to complete questionnaires and/or take part in structured assessments about play, mental health, language and communication difficulties, and sociodemographic information.  Children will be observed in a playground setting using observational methods.  The data will be analysed using quantitative analysis.