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BACKGROUND: Children with developmental language disorder (DLD) experience higher levels of peer victimization than their peers. However, it is not known if such associations reflect genetic and environmental confounding. We used a co-twin control design to investigate the association of language difficulties (DLD and separately poor pragmatic language) with peer victimization and compare the developmental trajectories of peer victimization across adolescence for those with and without language difficulties. METHODS: Participants were 3,400 pairs of twins in the Twins Early Development Study (TEDS), a UK-based population birth cohort. Language abilities were assessed via online tests at age 11 and peer victimization was self-reported at ages 11, 14 and 16. Language difficulties were defined as language abilities at least -1.25 SD below the mean of the TEDS sample. We performed linear regressions and latent growth curve modeling at a population level and within monozygotic and same-sex dizygotic twin pairs. RESULTS: At population level, youth with DLD experienced higher levels of peer victimization at ages 11 (β = 0.27, 95% Confidence Interval (CI) 0.20-0.35), 14 (β = 0.15, 95% CI 0.03-0.27) and 16 (β = 0.17, 95% CI 0.03-0.32) and a sharper decline in peer victimization between ages 11 and 16 compared to their peers without DLD. The associations between DLD and peer victimization were reduced in strength and not statistically significant in within-twin models. Moreover, there was no difference in the rate of change in peer victimization between twin pairs discordant for DLD. Results were similar for the association of poor pragmatic language with peer victimization. CONCLUSIONS: Associations between language difficulties (DLD and separately, poor pragmatic language) and peer victimization were confounded by genetic and shared environmental factors. Identifying specific factors underlying these associations is important for guiding future work to reduce peer victimization among adolescents with language difficulties.

Original publication




Journal article


J Child Psychol Psychiatry

Publication Date



Developmental language disorder, adolescence, behavioral genetics, bullying victimization, pragmatic language