Children with Developmental Language Disorders (DLD) experience more difficulties in their social functioning, in comparison with their typically developing peers. Research suggest that there is not necessarily a direct link between the social difficulties and the impeding linguistic abilities. From neuropsychological perspective, the difficulties in social functioning are the observable behavior in adolescence with DLD, whereas underlying cognitive deficits like mentalization (Theory of Mind [ToM]), self-regulation (Executive Functioning [EF]) and Inner Speech (IS) may related to this behavior.
Treatment for adolescents with DLD usually focuses on improving oral and written language skills. Since the role between language and social functioning is complex, treatment should also target the cognitive processes (ToM, EF and IS) underlying social functioning, as an interfunctional approach. However, there is no appropriate ‘social intervention’ for adolescence with DLD yet. Additionally, social interventions for other neuropsychiatric disorders mainly consist of role-playing and hypothetical vignettes. This type of treatment is highly language based and requires adequate mentalizing skills, which makes it difficult for adolescents with DLD.
Virtual Reality Intervention seems a promising technique to compensate for those linguistic and cognitive deficits in adolescents with DLD. Adolescents can practice their social and cognitive skills in a controlled real-life situation, eliminating the needs for adequate linguistic or mentalizing skills. Because of the controlled situation, children are able to repeat and rehearse their socio-communicative skills safely, which can contribute to their positive experiences in social situation.
In this project we want to fill the gap between observed problems in social functioning and recent intervention methods. The aim is to design a Virtual Reality program for adolescents with DLD to support and improve socio-communicative skills and reduce their behavioural problems. In this way, we will use a neuropsychological view, whereas problems in social functioning correlate with a complex interplay between deficits in ToM, EF and IS.