Language predictors in ASD (summary)


What was the aim of the study? This study aimed to describe characteristics of children with autism that can predict their language comprehension and production abilities over time.

Why was the paper written? Language development in children with autism can vary widely. It would be helpful know what kind of behaviours predict language development, because this would contribute to a better understanding of the process of language development in children with autism.

What did the authors do? The authors used a parent-report measure, the MacArthur-Bates Communicative Development Inventory, to identify the pre-speech abilities of children with autism over time. Forty-four children with ASD aged two to five years were followed for 4.5 years. The authors used a statistical method called Individual Growth Curve Modelling to identify which attributes of the children significantly contributed to their language achievements. This statistical method was important because it revealed which factors, or characteristics, were related to the language outcome more than by chance.

What did they find? The authors report two notable findings. First, the only abilities of young children with autism that predicted later language production were pre-speech and early gesture abilities, such as responding to speech, imitating speech, labelling items, communicating with gestures and playing social games like peek-a-boo. This contrasts with earlier research that reported only late gestures such as pretending to be a parent and imitating adult actions could predict this development.

Second, the number of social games and routines - such as peek-a-boo, patty cake, 'so big', chase, singing and dancing - that children with autism participated in predicted the development of language production over time. The authors were not able to identify a factor that predicted the development of language comprehension over time.

Cautions: There are three main limitations of the current study. First, only a small sample of children contributed to the results. Further research should include a greater number of participants. Second, the authors' evaluation did not account for any interventions that children were receiving throughout the study. Speech and language therapy can affect language outcomes for children with autism, but this was not accounted for in the study. Finally, the only measure used in this paper was a parent-report measure, and a wider range of tools may present different reflections of children's abilities.

Conclusions: The number of social games and routines in which children with autism could participate at a young age predicted the development of language production over time. These games require skills such as turn-taking, imitation, joint attention and social engagement. These skills probably help lay the foundation for future language development; therefore, social games and routines are more helpfully indicative of future language development than other measures such as non-verbal IQ or autism severity.

Things you may want to look into:

autism (ASD) FAQ, autism spectrum disorders (ASD) glossary term, The National Autistic Society

Added to site August 2013