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02-04-2012 | Psychology | Article

Many children with autism spectrum disorders have language comprehension problems

Abstract

Free abstract

MedWire News: A significant number of children with autism spectrum disorders have language comprehension problems, suggest study findings.

Children with Asperger or autistic feature syndromes were less affected and had language comprehension scores that were normal for their age, whereas children with Pervasive Developmental Disorder-Not Otherwise Specified (PDD-NOS) or autistic disorder had scores that were abnormal or at the bottom end of the normal range.

Liselotte Kjellmer (Sahlgrenska Academy, Gothenburg, Sweden) and colleagues used the Comprehension Scale of the Reynell Developmental Language Scales III (RDLS) test to assess levels of language comprehension of 94 Swedish boys and girls, aged 4.0-6.8 years, with autism spectrum disorders, but no intellectual disability. The children formed part of a cohort of 208 preschool children with autism spectrum disorders that was followed up for over 2 years.

As reported in Research in Autism Spectrum Disorders, the team found that there was a delay in development of language comprehension in the autism spectrum children compared with the general population.

Overall, 38% of the children in the cohort had RDLS results in the impaired range (below the 10th percentile) regardless of their diagnosis.

However, children with Asperger and autistic feature syndromes scored better on the RDLS, with scores with mean scores of 36.4 and 40.1, respectively, compared with those with PDD-NOS and autistic disorder who achieved mean scores of 17.0 and 14.0, respectively.

The researchers note that 10% and 41% of the variance in language comprehension seen within the cohort could be attributed to nonverbal and verbal IQ scores, respectively.

"Our study shows that many children with autism spectrum disorders without intellectual disability have impaired language comprehension," write Kjellmer et al. "This highlights the need for detailed linguistic assessment of this group of children."

They add: "Another clinical implication of the data from this study is that many of these children may have difficulties comprehending instructions in everyday situations as well as teacher instructions in the classroom. The latter point is important since many children with autism spectrum disorders without intellectual disability are mainstreamed in regular classrooms."

By Helen Albert

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