Children with language disorder may consider peers as friends just because they have been willing to play with them

Children with language disorders may fall victims to false friends, who may misuse their trust, a study warns.Pupils with difficulties communicating may lack awareness of the motives, thoughts and feelings of peers, especially when distinguishing between good and bad friends.The importance of physical proximity and play to their understanding of friendship may also leave them susceptible to false relationships. This means that children with language disorder may consider peers as friends just because they have been willing to play with them. They may not think of the peers’ motives.The study, led by Dr Lenka Janik Blaskova from the University of Exeter, is published in the International Journal of Language & Communication Disorders.Researchers interviewed 14 children with learning disabilities at the age of 6 to 8 years in the United Kingdom and Republic of Ireland. Children attended enhanced provision, specific speech and language classes and mainstream classrooms. Their understanding of friendship varied from physical presence to mutual support and sharing. Children with language disorder did not mention their language or communication abilities as a barrier to making friends.Many of those who took part in the study said they found it easy to make friends. Those who said it was hard attributed this to unfamiliarity with their peers of their environment. None mentioned language or communication difficulties as potential obstacles. Dr Blaskova said: “To successfully navigate the complex nature of friendships, children need to develop robust social and emotional capacities. Children with language disorder can be at a disadvantages in their interactions with their peers.”But the study warns children’s “immature” understanding of relationships means they are susceptible to making false friends.Children’s understanding of what a good friend was also based on how they played and took part in physical activity with them.For children friendship came from sitting together in class, joining gardening club and school activities. To them an ideal friend was someone displaying kind, caring and helpful behaviours towards children with language disorder.Dr Blaskova said: “For children with language disorder play may represent a safe environment to make friends and to test out if peers are good or bad friends. For some play is much more than just a way of interacting with others. It was concerning to us to see they had a lower understanding of what a bad friend was.”Many young offenders with language disorders have a higher risk of reoffending, and the study indicates there is a possibility that rehabilitation services may need to look at addressing underlying issues, which are linked to poor understanding of who a good and bad friend is.