|dc.description.abstract||Children on the autism spectrum demonstrate wide variation in their expressive communication skills, with a significant proportion having minimal verbal language. Research has tried to identify factors that might influence or predict language acquisition, with limited success. Further research is needed to understand, and ultimately address, the communication needs of this group of children to better support their communication development. Therefore, the primary aim of this study was to investigate spoken language development in children on the autism spectrum with minimal verbal language by addressing three research questions:
1. What are the social communication profiles of school age children on the autism spectrum with minimal verbal language?
2. What proportion of school age children on the autism spectrum with minimal verbal language develop spoken language over a 4-year period?
3. Do children on the autism spectrum who do and do not go on to develop spoken language differ based on their (a) social-communication skills or (b) personal, family, and environmental factors?
The study used data from children with minimal verbal language participating in the Longitudinal study of Australian Students with Autism, a cross-sequential study investigating the educational experiences and outcomes of students on the autism spectrum. Data at four time points were drawn from a set of measures of child and family demographics, autism characteristics, social-communication skills, and adaptive behaviour. A mixed methods approach was used to address the research questions, including qualitative content analysis methods and descriptive and inferential statistics.
Results of this study indicate that just over half of the participants developed some level of spoken language ability over the 4-year period. When comparing groups of developers and nondevelopers of language, no significant differences were found for the social-communication skills evaluated on The Pragmatics Profile of Everyday Communication Skills in Children (PP); however, a medium effect size was found for interaction with adults. While no significant differences were found between groups on the identified factors, medium effect sizes were also reported for autism characteristics, parent education, and parent diagnoses.
Findings provide valuable information regarding the language abilities of children with minimal verbal language, including subgroups within this population, and how they present with complex profiles of social-communication skills as well as personal, family, and environmental factors. These skills and factors require investigation in larger groups of children to determine their potential significance in the language development of children on the autism spectrum with minimal verbal language. Findings offer preliminary evidence for a new method for quantifying qualitative insights into children’s social-communication skills using the PP. Collectively, these findings will assist professionals working with this group of children by providing a better understanding of the unique profiles of children on the autism spectrum who enter formal schooling with minimal verbal language, that can be used to tailor and implement individualised supports aimed at facilitating and promoting positive communication outcomes.||