Purpose

International evidence suggests youth offenders have greater difficulties with oral language than their nonoffending peers. This study examined the hearing, auditory processing, and language skills of male youth offenders and remandees (YORs) in New Zealand.

Method

Thirty-three male YORs, aged 14–17 years, were recruited from 2 youth justice residences, plus 39 similarly aged male students from local schools for comparison. Testing comprised tympanometry, self-reported hearing, pure-tone audiometry, 4 auditory processing tests, 2 standardized language tests, and a nonverbal intelligence test.

Results

Twenty-one (64%) of the YORs were identified as language impaired (LI), compared with 4 (10%) of the controls. Performance on all language measures was significantly worse in the YOR group, as were their hearing thresholds. Nine (27%) of the YOR group versus 7 (18%) of the control group fulfilled criteria for auditory processing disorder. Only 1 YOR versus 5 controls had an auditory processing disorder without LI.

Conclusions

Language was an area of significant difficulty for YORs. Difficulties with auditory processing were more likely to be accompanied by LI in this group, compared with the controls. Provision of speech-language therapy services and awareness of auditory and language difficulties should be addressed in youth justice systems.

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