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Children with Developmental Language Disorder (DLD) experience higher levels of peer victimisation than their peers. However, it is not known if such associations reflect genetic and environmental confounding. We used a co-twin control design to investigate the association of language difficulties (DLD and separately poor pragmatic language) with peer victimisation, and compare the developmental trajectories of peer victimisation across adolescence for those with and without language difficulties. Methods: Participants were 3,400 pairs of twins in the Twins Early Development Study (TEDS), a UK-based population birth cohort. Language abilities were assessed via online tests at age 11 and peer victimisation was self-reported at ages 11, 14 and 16. Language difficulties were defined as language abilities at least –1.25 SD below the mean of the TEDS sample. We performed linear regressions and latent growth curve modelling at a population level and within monozygotic and same-sex dizygotic twin pairs. Results: At population-level, youth with DLD experienced higher levels of peer victimisation at ages 11 (=0.27, 95% Confidence Interval (CI) 0.20-0.35), 14 (=0.15, 95% CI 0.03-0.27) and 16 (=0.17, 95% CI 0.03-0.32) and a sharper decline in peer victimisation between ages 11-16 compared to their peers without DLD. The association between DLD and peer victimisation was reduced in strength and not statistically significant in within-twin models. Moreover, there was no difference in the rate of change in peer victimisation between twin pairs discordant for DLD. Results were similar for the association of poor pragmatic language with peer victimisation. Conclusions Associations between language difficulties (DLD and separately, poor pragmatic language) and peer victimisation were confounded by genetic and shared environmental factors. Identifying specific factors underlying these associations is important for guiding future work to reduce peer victimisation among adolescents with language difficulties.

Type

Journal article

Journal

Journal of Child Psychology and Psychiatry

Publisher

Wiley

Publication Date

01/02/2024

Keywords

developmental language disorder, bullying victimisation, behavioural genetics, pragmatic language, adolescence