UCL News


Researchers run exhibition on language development and mental health

12 November 2018

The "Words for Wellbeing" exhibition, part of the ESRC's Festival of Social Science, focused on new UCL-led research showing that language disorder in young children can increase risk of mental health problems.

Words for wellbeing

Around 10 per cent of children start school with Developmental Language Disorder (DLD), which negatively impacts educational attainment and social interaction and increases risk for later adverse mental health.

By the end of their first school year, 88 per cent have not met teacher's expectations for learning outcomes and yet fewer than half of these children receive specialist support. On top of their language difficulties, many children with DLD experience social, emotional and behavioural problems.

These findings come from the Surrey Communication and Language in Education Study (SCALES) led by Professor Courtenay Norbury and Dr Sarah Griffiths (UCL Psychology & Language Sciences).

On Saturday 10th November, Dr Sarah Griffiths and the rest of the SCALES team presented a family-friendly exhibition, which included games and hands-on activities for children, to demonstrate the importance of language for recognising emotions and getting along with other people.

"Having words to describe your feelings is essential for emotional recognition and regulation, and for getting help when you are struggling. Previous research shows that many adolescents referred to child and adolescent mental health services (CAHMS) have undiagnosed DLD and this may impact their ability to access talking therapies.

"We are hoping to raise awareness of DLD and how important it is for all young people to have the language necessary to talk about their feelings and build supportive social networks," said Dr Griffiths.

DLD describes difficulties with learning and using language, which will be long term and are not associated with other conditions, such as cerebral palsy, or autistic spectrum disorders.

"One of the key questions the team are investigating is why early language problems are associated with social, emotional and behavioural difficulties throughout childhood. In particular we are interested in how language is used for recognising and managing emotions and social situations and how problems with language may impact mental health," said Professor Norbury.

In order to explore the associations between language development and other developmental outcomes, the SCALES study is following 500 children that entered school in 2011 from reception until Year 8.