University of Gothenburg
Child at speech therapists
Photo: Africa Studio/

Language disorders and speech in ESSENCE

An overview of our past, present and ongoing studies in language disorders and speech in ESSENCE programme.


Within this research programme the focus is on early detection of language disorder (Developmental Language Disorders, DLD) and other development in children with DLD/ASD/ESSENCE, as well as long-term consequences DLD has for the child and his/her family.

We are interested in following children with language disorder over time to get an understanding of prognosis, symptoms and function development, medical (e.g., hearing) as well as psychiatric comorbidity, cognition, quality of life, and additionally prognostic features from childhood to adolescence. A further interest is to examine what support/intervention children and families have received.

Boy practicing speaking
Photo: Pixel-Shot/

Programme supervisors

  • Carmela Miniscalco
  • Jakob Åsberg Johnels


  • Elisabeth Fernell
  • Bibbi Hagberg
  • Fritjof Norrelgen
  • Emilia Carlsson
  • Charlotte Stübner
  • Ulrika Schachinger-Lorentzon
  • Gunilla Westman-Andersson
  • Nanna Gillberg

Earlier projects

Over the years we have reported in several studies that delayed language development and language disorder at an early age signals a risk of ESSENCE difficulties and have shown that overlapping between language disorder and ESSENCE in school age occurs in more than half of all children with delayed speech development according to screening at the CHC at 2.5 years of age.

In the AUDIE project (AUtism Detection and Intervention in Early life) which was a collaboration between CNC, CHC, and habilitation centers in Gothenburg in 2009-2011, all 2.5-year-old children were screened for both language and autism at the same visit to their CHC.  More than 100 children were detected and diagnosed as having ASD. These same children were furthermore followed up at the age of 5 and 8 years with the focus on studying diagnostic stability. The project shows that the majority of those who had ASD at 2.5 years of age still had their diagnosis at follow-up. 

In another study, we examined ESSENCE in school children who either been identified in just language screening (and therefore were referred to the speech and language pathologist) or the autism screening (resulting in a referral to the neuropsychiatry team examination). We found that 5 years later, 40% of all children had one or more additional ESSENCE symptoms/diagnoses than they were originally diagnosed with.

In a previous doctoral project, we were interested in studying the language skills of the children in the AUDIE project with data from 3, 5 and 8 years of age. The main result was that there were clear links between the child's spoken language development and reading comprehension at 8 years of age. Clear residual difficulties also existed with oral narration.

A Stockholm-based project demonstrated that children with autism have similar language difficulties as children with language disorder. In a follow-up study with the same group of children, we were able to establish the same conclusion regarding the children's reading and writing difficulties.

In some qualitative studies, we have also focused on the parents' experiences of the neuropsychiatric investigation process, the preschool's efforts, and society's support. Several parents expressed that they feel satisfied with the neuropsychiatric investigation but afterwards they  felt left to their own devices and were without help.

In all studies, in-depth psychiatric, speech therapy, psychological and education examinations were made of the groups at preschool-age. 

Ongoing projects

In an ongoing doctoral project on language disorder and ESSENCE, 100 children who screened positive in 2.5 years  language screening, but not in the autism screening, are followed prospectively to study developmental profiles, quality of life, and the connections between the two.

In another doctoral project, PFAS’s possible effect (a hormone-disrupting substance that leaked into drinking water until 2013) on children's linguistic and cognitive development is studied by using register studies of a large number of ~ 24,000 children born in Blekinge and investigated by a speech therapist.

A  doctoral project with Professor Anette Lohmander, KI as PI, is studying whether a simple screening at CHC for the presence of canonical babbling  [da-da] at 10 months can identify children who later at 2.5/3 years of age, have  language disorder.

In a further Gothenburg-based study, we examine the prevalence of language disorder in children ages 5-13 years with new-onset epilepsy.

Future projects

Water in a glass
Photo: klimkin/

In the PFAS project, we intend on studying language, behaviour and other development in the already established Mother-Child cohort with around 250 sets of mother-child. The child’s development will be followed between the age of  0-5 years with a yearly questionnaire as well as follow up testing by a speech and language pathologist and psychologist when the children turns 5. The first tests will begin at the beginning of 2021.

We also plan to follow-up participants in the AUDIE project when they are adolescents as well as carry out a further qualitative follow-up interview study of parents who took part in previous interviews.