Merely misunderstood? Receptive, expressive, and pragmatic language in young children with disruptive behavior disorders

J Clin Child Adolesc Psychol. 2014;43(5):765-76. doi: 10.1080/15374416.2013.822306. Epub 2013 Aug 7.


Children with disruptive behavior disorders (DBDs) often seem to have poorer language skills compared to same-age peers; however, language as an early risk factor for DBD has received little empirical attention. The present study provides an empirical examination of associations between normal language variation and DBD by investigating receptive, expressive, and pragmatic language skills and preschool DBD symptoms. The sample consisted of 109 preschoolers ages 3 to 6 (M = 4.77 years, SD = 1.10, 59% boys; 73% with DBD, including oppositional defiant disorder [ODD] and attention-deficit/hyperactivity disorder [ADHD]) along with their primary caregivers, who completed a clinician-administered interview, symptom questionnaires, and a questionnaire measure of pragmatic language, and teacher and/or daycare providers completed symptom questionnaires. Children completed objective tests of receptive and expressive vocabulary. Preschoolers with DBD showed poorer receptive, expressive, and pragmatic skills compared to preschoolers without DBD. Preschoolers with ADHD-only or ADHD+ODD exhibited poorer language skills, compared to ODD and non-DBD groups. Specificity analyses suggested that parent-rated hyperactivity-impulsivity were particularly associated with poorer language skills. Thus, preschoolers with DBD exhibited poorer language skills compared to preschoolers without DBD, and preschoolers with increased hyperactivity-impulsivity exhibited particular problems with language skills. This work suggests the need for early assessment of language in preschoolers, particularly those with ADHD, as well as the possible utility of tailored interventions focused on improving language skills, particularly for those with high hyperactivity-impulsivity.

MeSH terms

  • Attention Deficit Disorder with Hyperactivity / complications
  • Attention Deficit Disorder with Hyperactivity / psychology
  • Attention Deficit and Disruptive Behavior Disorders / complications
  • Attention Deficit and Disruptive Behavior Disorders / psychology*
  • Child
  • Child, Preschool
  • Female
  • Humans
  • Language*
  • Male
  • Surveys and Questionnaires