A number of studies have looked at the relationshiop between speech and language development and behaviour difficulties in children. These studies identified that over half of children, presenting with behaviour difficulties, had a measurable language delay or disorder. Studies which focussed specifically on social communication skills found that nearly all of the children, presenting with behaviour difficulties, had some some form of social communication need. There is also evidence that this relationship between communication and behaviour continues through adolescence into adulthood. For example, studies of young offenders in the criminal justice system report poor oral language skills in over half of subjects. Perhaps most worrying, is that so many of those identified with social communication difficulties had no previous diagnosis. This suggests a failure of primary and secondary education to adequately identify and support these individuals.
Understanding the relationship between behaviour and language development
In trying to understand what leads to the behaviour difficulties in a particular child (or indeed an adult) there will be a large number of determining factors of which the speech, language or communication needs is only one part. However, our ability to understand language and communicate is crucial to our ability to function successfully in our social world. We need good social communication and language skills to help us understand the subtle norms and values of our society and our interactions with others. It is essential in helping us learn and follow social rules and in creating our sense of belonging to a social community.
Language development also plays a significant role in helping to develop emotional self-regulation. The ability to communicate how we feel through language, rather than through actions, is essential in modifying our behaviour when angry or upset. Equally, language is necessary to begin to understand, process and manage the thoughts, emotions and anxieties that distress us. Thus, any intervention on supporting an individual to modify their behaviour should include help with developing appropriate language skills. This may include vocabulary to improve emotional literacy and opportunities for oral rehearsal and practice.