Environmental Factors in
Developmental Language Disorders
Henk lutje Spelberg
University of Groningen, The Netherlands
Language plays a crucial role in child development. That is, children's thinking, reasoning, and social competence develop via social interactions and functional communication with their parents (Bruner, 1977; Schaffer, 1996). Developmental language and behavior problems may, in turn, arise as a result of inadequate social interactions and communication during the preverbal period of socialization. This chapter considers the role and importance of adequate social interactions and communication in the ontogenesis of developmental language difficulties. It also examines how language development disorders may influence a child's socioemotional development, resulting in varying degrees of perceived and assessed challenging behavior.
A review of the literature on the presupposed relations between developmental language difficulties and the presence of problem behaviors results in three main areas of variability and sometimes discrepancy (Bishop & Mogford, 1989; Fletcher & Hall, 1992; Hart & Risley, 1999; Leonard, 1998). First of all, language disorders may be more or less specific. The original definition of specific language impairment (SLI) is based on exclusion criteria (Stark & Tallal, 1981). Social deprivation is one of the exclusion criteria (Bishop, 1997). The typology of nonspecific SLI, such as mental retardation, autistic spectrum disorders, and other multiply based language difficulties, is diverse and may thus affect social interactions and communication in different ways. Second, the children's age may span a broad range. It is clear from research that children's competence in managing interpersonal relationships is highly dependent on age (Schaffer,