Adult psychosocial outcomes of children with specific language impairment, pragmatic language impairment and autism

Int J Lang Commun Disord. 2009 Jul-Aug;44(4):511-28. doi: 10.1080/13682820802708098.


Background: The few studies that have tracked children with developmental language disorder to adulthood have found that these individuals experience considerable difficulties with psychosocial adjustment (for example, academic, vocational and social aptitude). Evidence that some children also develop autistic symptomatology over time has raised suggestions that developmental language disorder may be a high-functioning form of an autism spectrum disorder (ASD). It is not yet clear whether these outcomes vary between individuals with different subtypes of language impairment.

Aims: To compare the adult psychosocial outcomes of children with specific language impairment (SLI), pragmatic language impairment (PLI) and ASD.

Methods & procedures: All participants took part in research as children. In total, there were 19 young adults with a childhood history of Specific Language Impairment (M age = 24;8), seven with PLI (M age = 22;3), 11 with high functioning ASD (M age = 21;9) and 12 adults with no history of developmental disorder (Typical; n = 12; M age = 21;6). At follow-up, participants and their parents were interviewed to elicit information about psychosocial outcomes.

Outcomes & results: Participants in the SLI group were most likely to pursue vocational training and work in jobs not requiring a high level of language/literacy ability. The PLI group tended to obtain higher levels of education and work in 'skilled' professions. The ASD participants had lower levels of independence and more difficulty obtaining employment than the PLI and SLI participants. All groups had problems establishing social relationships, but these difficulties were most prominent in the PLI and ASD groups. A small number of participants in each group were found to experience affective disturbances. The PLI and SLI groups showed lower levels of autistic symptomatology than the ASD group.

Conclusions & implications: The between-group differences in autistic symptomatology provide further evidence that SLI, PLI, and ASD are related disorders that vary along qualitative dimensions of language structure, language use and circumscribed interests. Childhood diagnosis showed some relation to adult psychosocial outcome. However, within-group variation highlights the importance of evaluating children on a case-by-case basis.

Publication types

  • Case Reports
  • Research Support, Non-U.S. Gov't

MeSH terms

  • Adolescent
  • Adult
  • Child
  • Child Development Disorders, Pervasive / psychology*
  • Educational Status
  • Employment
  • Female
  • Follow-Up Studies
  • Friends / psychology
  • Humans
  • Interpersonal Relations
  • Language Development Disorders / psychology*
  • Male
  • Mental Disorders / etiology
  • Prognosis
  • Psychiatric Status Rating Scales
  • Psychometrics
  • Young Adult