A new study published online this week and in the April print issue of the journal Pediatrics finds that children with autism who have language delay can acquire language skills at age four or older. This counters the notion suggesting that if children, whether diagnosed with autism or otherwise, do not begin speaking by five years of age, they are unlikely to do so afterwards.
In this study from the Center for Autism and Related Disorders, 535 children, age eight and older, diagnosed on the autism spectrum and who did not acquire language prior to age four, were analyzed. The researchers found that out of this group, 372 children attained phrase speech, defined as non-echoed, three-word utterances and 253 children acquired fluent speech at or after age four.
In addition, they found that the children with higher non-verbal IQ scores and lower social impairment were more likely to acquire phrase and fluent speech at an earlier age. Stereotypy, or repetitive behaviors, and rigid interests were not found to be associated with delayed speech acquisition.
While this study does not specify what treatments or interventions the children received, the results support the principle that social and non-verbal communication skills are essential components in the acquisition of language, as the children who did exhibit those skills in this study were more likely to develop language skills. Any intervention or therapy program catered to a child with a language delay, whether diagnosed on the autism spectrum or not, should incorporate goals that target those domains as the building blocks to foster language development.
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