CBT for Communication and Language Problems

Children with social, emotional, and behavioral difficulties (SEBD) often exhibit speech, language, and communication needs (SLCN) as well. Clinicians and educators who work with these children have the challenge of identifying which type of treatments will best serve the needs of these special children. SEBD has been shown to be linked to communication deficits, but this relationship has not been fully explored. Gender, social conditions, intelligence, and relationship styles are factors that contribute to both SLCN and SEBD. Most children with these problems are not identified until they enter school, making the correlation between them more convoluted. For instance, executive function deficits may not be discovered until children enter school and exhibit symptoms of attention deficit hyperactivity disorder (ADHD). Other children may live with negative psychological and physical conditions such as abuse or neglect that can cause the children to stifle their communication, resulting in communication problems later on.

The most common type of treatment for SEBD is cognitive behavioral therapy (CBT). In a recent analysis of existing research, James Law of the Institute of Health and Society at Newcastle University in the UK looked to see whether CBT was ever combined with communication therapy for children. He also studied the research on CBT outcomes in children with Asperger’s, autism, and anxiety to determine whether the therapy had any positive impact on communication skills. For his research, Law examined 19 separate studies that included data from 148 children with SEBD and SLCN.

Although Law did not isolate one particular CBT approach that would be most beneficial for these children, he did discover that variation in communication enhancement techniques had a positive impact. Specifically, more formal techniques appeared to help the children with autism spectrum issues the most, and naturalistic and educational approaches were identified as effective methods for children with mild communication and behavior problems. In conclusion, Law added, “The potential overlap between SLCN and SEBD needs to be widely recognized by practitioners, and the implications for practice of this overlap explored more fully.”

Law, J., Plunkett, C. C., Stringer, H. (2012). Communication interventions and their impact on behaviour in the young child: A systematic review. Child Language Teaching and Therapy, 28.1, 7-23.

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  • Samuel Adams

    Samuel Adams

    May 15th, 2012 at 3:56 PM

    Oh, these kids with communication issues must feel like they have so much bottled up on the inside but have no effective skills for getting those words out. I certainly hope that CBT along with the combination of other treatments and tools can be the answer for them. I would hate to know that I had a child who had so much to say, so much to offer, but felt like he or she had no real way of getting it out.

  • Stace


    May 15th, 2012 at 4:56 PM

    I am very curious about what kind of positive impact researcher witnessed in those with Aspergers? Where could I go to find the specifics?

  • Solomon James

    Solomon James

    May 16th, 2012 at 5:48 AM

    This must be especially compelling evidence for researchers and teachers that many times in these children who are experiencing communication breakdowns, that there could be far ore lurking beneath the surface that they originally thought. This may be why the traditional treatments and methods that they have tried may have netted no great results. This might be thinking out side of the box a bit for some of them, but sometimes to reach children like this it is going to tale stretching the imagination a little. I am sure that in the not so recent past it would have never been considered that CBT may could help in cases like this, but this makes it pretty clear that with some individual modifications, CBT could meet the needs of many more students than would have been considered in the past.

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