Researchers Link Delayed Language Development to Poor Mental Health

A recent research conducted by a team from the University of York furthers our efforts in understanding the genetic make-up for children having poor mental health with poor language. The researchers examined genetic variants in six genes that are believed to be the key genes in speech and language development in children.

The findings from the study are published in the Journal of Speech, Language, and Hearing Research.

The early and middle childhood variation in language and psychosocial outcomes are recognized by using polygenic profiles.

The study led by the University of York used the statistical technique of Polygenic scoring, which adds up the effect of various genetic variants. Thus, determining if the genetic variant for language development in children have any influence on mental health. Different combinations were tried and results were analyzed to find a connection between the two.

The study was conducted on a vast sample space of 5,000 children. Analysis was run on their genetic information as well as questioning sessions were conducted to improve the accuracy of the results. Along with the sessions, clinical examination of their language ability was also carried out. The findings disclosed that almost 50% of the genetic variants contributing to establish language in children also play a significant role in poor mental health.

The finding of the study was put into question as the connection might merely be suggesting that the children might not be provisioned with good mental health and might be suffering from language disorders at the same time. Further work is in progress to determine the authenticity of these findings.

Dr. Umar Toseeb, at the University of York, Department of Education and a lead author of the study said: “This study provides very preliminary evidence that children with language disorders, such as developmental language disorder (DLD), may experience poor mental health due to shared biological mechanisms.”

“This means that children with DLD may have poor mental health because the genes that are responsible for building neural systems responsible for language might also be responsible for mental health.”

“If our findings are confirmed in future work, it could mean that, rather than wait for children with developmental language disorder to show symptoms of poor mental health before intervening, mental health support is put in place as soon as language difficulties become apparent, as a preventative measure.”

The argument from the researchers is that the genes responsible for language development are the same ones that control mental health and one should not wait for both the symptoms to appear in order to affirm the presence of the other problem. The symptoms of any one of them should suffice as a piece of evidence that the other problem might also be present.

Many children with DLD struggle with language ability which may lead to poor mental health. But it is the first study being conducted to suggest the possibility of any association of genetic factors with the occurrence of DLD and mental health difficulties.

Dr. Dianne Newbury, from the Department of Biological and Medical Sciences at Oxford Brookes University, first author of the study, said: “This is the first study to demonstrate these genetic effects but they need to be replicated in larger independent datasets to confirm the findings.”

“We looked at genetic variation across six genes, but there are many thousands more in the human genome that we did not investigate, so these results only represent a subset of the relevant networks.

“The study illustrates the complexity of language-related genetic networks and shows that this is an area that should be investigated further.”

Adeena Tariq

Adeena's professional life has been mostly in hospital management, while studying international business in college. Of course, she now covers topics for us in health.

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