Question Shama Education

The Relationship Between Language and Behaviour in Schools

What is the relationship between language and behaviour in mainstream schools?

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Answer Expert #1168

In the context of pre-school children with autism, Park et al. (2012, p.2761) found no associations between structural language skills and behaviour problems, but receptive and expressive communication skills overall did have a link: many autistic children can access mainstream education provided support is in place. Menting et al. (2010, p.72) agreed with this: a mainstream study that showed that children with poorer receptive language skills, particularly boys, experienced more peer rejection which resulted in increases of externalised behaviour, whereas the reverse is true in children who have developed these skills; the poor behaviour being mediated by the rejection. Ketelaars et al. (2010, p. 204) refined the incidence of behaviour problems to be associated with children who struggled with pragmatic language impairment, that is, difficulties using language in context. Harris (2011, p.40) makes an important point that the use language as a social behaviour can be taught. It must therefore be embedded through appropriate modelling of behaviour within the school context so that gaps may be closed between the most able in terms of social linguistics and those at a disadvantage; whether through developmental, cultural (eg. English as a second language) or social barriers. It can be seen therefore that verbal expression of language is only part of the child's toolkit to find a place in the social hierarchy in school: gestures, body language and the interactions between children work together to affect the behaviour of all.


Harris, J.R., 2011. The nurture assumption: Why children turn out the way they do. Simon and Schuster.

Ketelaars, M.P., Cuperus, J., Jansonius, K. and Verhoeven, L., 2010. Pragmatic language impairment and associated behavioural problems. International Journal of Language & Communication Disorders, 45(2), pp.204-214.

Menting, B., Van Lier, P.A. and Koot, H.M., 2011. Language skills, peer rejection, and the development of externalizing behavior from kindergarten to fourth grade. Journal of Child Psychology and Psychiatry, 52(1), pp.72-79.

Park, C.J., Yelland, G.W., Taffe, J.R. and Gray, K.M., 2012. Brief report: The relationship between language skills, adaptive behavior, and emotional and behavior problems in pre-schoolers with autism. Journal of Autism and Developmental Disorders, 42(12), pp.2761-2766.