Doctor of Philosophy (PhD)


Communication Sciences and Disorders

Document Type



Social skills are an important aspect of child development that continues to have influences in adolescence and adulthood (Hart, Olsen, Robinson, & Mandleco, 1997). Interacting in a social world requires an integration of many abilities that include social skills and emotional understanding of oneself and other persons. Children who have difficulties with interpreting social cues (e.g., identifying basic emotions and responding to cues in speech) have immediate and progressive consequences in both academics and social living. Children with typical language skills are successfully interacting with peers and acknowledging social rules for different environments (e.g., playing at school vs. playing at home). In contrast, children with language impairments struggle with using social skills that result in negative experiences in peer interactions (Horowitz, Jansson, Ljungberg, & Hedenbro, 2006). This study explored the social profiles of second grade children with a range of language abilities (e.g., children with low and high levels of language) as they interpret emotions in speech and narrative tasks. Multiple informants (i.e., parents, teachers, speech-language pathologist, and peers) evaluated social skills from different perspectives. A multi-interactional approach explained children’s social-emotional development from three theoretical perspectives: pragmatics, cognition, and emotional understanding. Forty-one second grade children completed a battery of tests that evaluated cognitive measures, language ability, and social skills. Each participant completed three experimental tasks (perception, imitation, and narrative) that examined how children process emotional cues in speech and narratives. A sociometric classification profiled children’s social skills and peer relationships. Results indicated that children with a range of language abilities (i.e., children with low and high levels of language skills) processed emotional cues in speech. Four acoustic patterns significantly related to how children differentiate emotions in speech. Additionally, language ability was a significant factor in the ability to infer emotions in narratives and judge social skills. Children with high language scores were more liked by peers and received better ratings on the teacher questionnaires. This study provides preliminary evidence that children with low and high levels of language abilities are able to interpret emotional cues in speech but differed in the ability to infer emotions in narratives.



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Committee Chair

Hoffman, Paul