Tech Tuesday/Summer Study Series: Language Disorder and Emotional Regu - MindWing Concepts, Inc.

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Tech Tuesday/Summer Study Series: Language Disorder and Emotional Regulation

by Sean Sweeney August 29, 2022 3 min read

It’s hard to believe that this is the last entry in our 2022 Summer Study Series as we are entering the final act of the summer.

For that matter, consider all we do to regulate ourselves around these transitions (Lifehacker article): being able to label how it makes us feel, and applying thinking tools and activities to help ourselves adjust. Like all humans, we Article Headline imagehave varying degrees of success in navigating these emotional waters, which is the subject of this month’s post. The article “A Multimodal Comparison of Emotion Categorization Abilities in Children With Developmental Language Disorder” (Bahn, Vesker, Schwarzer & Kauschke, 2021), which examines the connection between language learning and emotional processing.

The study details are fairly technical, so I will let you examine those as deeply as you like, while focusing here on main points and some suggested tech-infused and Story Grammar Marker®-related strategies for intervention.

  • Feelings bookmark imageThe study first establishes the evidence for co-occurrence of developmental language disorder (DLD) and emotional competence, pointing at the causal chain of language struggles leading to difficulty in social interaction and acquisition of social skills, then to potential social exclusion and social-behavioral problems. The study was interested in looking at whether this is a purely communication-related phenomenon, with emotional vocabulary and verbal/nonverbal language processing at the core, or whether this is “a domain-general deficit located at a basic level of emotion processing” may also affect those that struggle with language development.
  • Previous studies, as described in the article, have often focused on students’ ability to label facial expressions (mostly without much context). Difficulties in such a task are to be expected given language limitations. These authors—and here’s where I will gloss over some of the details—looked at situations such as valence tasks, where students needed to “recognize partial and very basic semantic information and not the whole emotion concept” to try to get more at core emotional processing.
  • Results, of course, confirmed the role of lexical skills in labeling emotions, but also broader difficulties, e.g., students “falsely categorized positive emotion terms as negative or vice versa.” In other words, as the title of the study suggests, these subjects with DLD demonstrated multimodal difficulties with emotional processing affecting both verbal and nonverbal domains and tasks. This result reflects an overall “reduced emotion knowledge” seeming to affect the ability to categorize situations positively or negatively, of which the implications would be clearly potentially impactful in daily life.

So the upshot we can take from this is to not neglect our Focus on Feelings. If you are here, you believe context is important, so stories can be a route to intervene on both the verbal and nonverbal aspects of emotional language and processing. On the verbal side, we can work to label emotions manifested in stories, with SGM’s Feeling feeling icon icon and the Six Universal Emotions providing systematic tools. I always find that the Six Universal Emotions provide a good launching point to linked Tier 2 Emotional Vocabulary, e.g., reluctant is “a little scared to do something because of what might happen.” Verbally, we can also work on describing facial and body language cues in story illustrations that can bridge to that nonverbal interpretation side, as well as causal conjunctions (the why of feelings) and inferential hints in the text.

As an example, take The Good Egg (John/Oswald) available on Epic! Books for Kids (even better, part of a series that includes The Bad Seed). This story of an egg trying so hard to be good includes emotional content and many “egg-cellent” “facial” expressions. Use of an e-book such as this allows for zooming in on and taking screenshots of illustrations that may be very useful in therapy activities, regardless of the device you are using.

Epic! Books sample image

Consider the mischievous vs. flummoxed facial expressions in images such as the above!

Sean Sweeney
Sean Sweeney

Sean Sweeney, MS, MEd, CCC-SLP, is a speech-language pathologist and technology specialist working in private practice at the Ely Center in Needham, MA, and as a clinical supervisor at Boston University. He consults to local and national organizations on technology integration in speech and language interventions. His blog, SpeechTechie (, looks at technology “through a language lens.” Contact him at

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