A study published in Pediatrics (Epub ahead of print) by the Kennedy Krieger Institute’s Center for Autism and Related Disorders indicates that 70 percent of children with autism spectrum disorders (ASD) who have a history of severe language delay, achieved phrase or fluent speech by age eight. This suggests that more children presenting with ASD and severe language delays at age four can be expected to make language improvements than was previously thought. Communication and language difficulties are a hallmark feature of ASD, but previous research into the factors predicting the age and quality of speech attainment has been limited.
“We found that nonverbal intelligence was the strongest predictor of phrase speech, while social interest and engagement were as robust, if not greater, when predicting the age that children attained phrase speech and fluent speech,” said Ericka L. Wodka, Ph.D., a neuropsychologist in Kennedy Krieger’s Center for Autism and Related Disorders and lead study author. “Children with typical nonverbal intelligence attained language almost six months ahead of those with scores below the average.”
This is important because it supports the idea that qualities such as nonverbal intelligence and social engagement have more of an influence on the development of communication abilities than traits like repetitive and sensory processing behaviors. “Our findings continue to support the importance of considering both nonverbal intellectual level and social communication in treatment planning, highlighting the differing impact of these factors as related to treatment goals,” said Dr. Wodka.
“We hope the results of this study empower parents of children with autism and severe language delays to know that, with the appropriate therapy, a child will likely make significant gains in this area over time; however, progress should be expected to be slower for those children with lower intellectual abilities,” said Dr. Wodka. “Additionally, we hope these findings provide clinicians with better defined therapeutic targets for their patients with autism.”