A new study out of Kennedy Krieger Institute’s Center for Autism and Related Disorders (CARD) brings good news to families of children with autism that also have a severe language delay. According to the study, 70% of children with autism that had a severe language delay at age four achieved phrase or fluent speech by age eight.
“The study used the largest sample to date to examine the relationship between key deficits associated with ASD and attainment of phrase and/or fluent speech following a severe language delay, characterized by a child not putting words together into meaningful phrases by age four. As a common milestone of speech development, phrase speech is defined as using non-echoed three-word utterances that sometimes involve a verb and are spontaneous meaningful word combinations; whereas fluent speech is defined as the ability to use complex utterances to talk about topics outside of the immediate physical context.”
The data used in this study was obtained from the Simon Simplex Collection (SSC), a database project that includes information from 2,700 families that have one child aged four to 18 with an autism spectrum disorder and unaffected parents and siblings.
For this specific study, Kennedy Krieger researchers used data from 535 SSC children aged eight and older. The Autism Diagnostic Interview-Revised (ADI-R) and Autism Diagnosis Observation Schedule (ADOS) results were used to determine the speech and language progress of each of these 535 children.
Originally, the children had no phrase speech or the phrase speech began after the age of four. When re-examining the results at age eight or older, the researchers discovered that:
- 119 children mastered phrase speech (22.2%)
- 253 children were speaking fluently by their 8th birthday (47.3%)
- 163 children never attained phrase of fluent speech (30.5%)
“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 Ericka L. Wodka, Ph.D., a neuropsychologist and lead study author. “Additionally, we hope these findings provide clinicians with better defined therapeutic targets for their patients with autism.”