Creative Commons License

Creative Commons License
This work is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution-Noncommercial-No Derivative Works 4.0 License.

Date of Graduation


Document Type


Degree Name

Doctor of Psychology (PsyD)


Department of Graduate Psychology


Anne L. Stewart

Stacey Pavelko

Kenneth Critchfield

Kelly Atwood


Pragmatic language, or social communication, develops throughout childhood and adolescence. Deficits in pragmatic language ability have been found to impact social, emotional, and behavioral functioning in this population. This association has been found across a number of diagnostic presentations including autism spectrum disorder, specific language impairment, attention deficit-hyperactivity disorder, conduct disorder, and oppositional defiant disorder. This study utilized a systematic review methodology with an interprofessional approach, to explore the current literature for evidence of interventions targeting pragmatic language positively impacting emotional and behavioral outcomes in children and adolescents across a range of diagnoses and across multiple disciplines. Five interventions met inclusion criteria for this study, representing three disciplines: psychology, special education, and speech-language pathology. All five studies were school-based and spanned from elementary to high school age with a range in diagnostic presentations including autism spectrum disorder, emotional and behavioral disorder, and “at-risk” for behavioral and depressive difficulties. Results suggest that there may be a positive impact of targeting pragmatic language for emotional and behavioral outcomes as three of the studies reported improvement including decreases in depressive symptoms, levels of physical and verbal aggression, and a trend of decreased social anxiety. More research needs to be done to clarify this relationship, particularly as only one of the five interventions, implemented by a speech-language pathologist, exclusively targeted pragmatic language ability, while the other four included intervening with those skills as part of a larger intervention. This highlights a lack of familiarity with pragmatic language as a relevant concern for multiple diagnoses and an area of specific intervention outside of the discipline of speech-language pathology. This lack of familiarity coupled with little evidence of interprofessionalism in these interventions despite language and behaviors being of concern to multiple disciplines calls attention to the need for a shared understanding of pragmatic language across disciplines and interprofessional practice in assessing and treating these types of deficits. The results of this study are applicable to researchers and service providers working with children and adolescents with pragmatic language and emotional and behavioral difficulties.



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