Skip Navigation or Skip to Content


Language Development and Outcome in Children with Autism

Language development in typical children follows specific developmental sequences and demonstrates inherent biases at certain stages. It is not known to what degree language development in children with autism follows the same developmental rules or achieves language comprehension via different routes. This project began a collaboration between a developmental psycholinguist specializing in typical and atypical language development, Letitia Naigles, and a cognitive scientist, Deb Roy. The project built on a parent NIH-funded project led by Naigles that investigated whether the processes of language acquisition and development in autism are similar to that of typically developing children, and what language comprehension measures reveal about the processes and products of language acquisition in children with autism. A “Speechome Recorder”, developed by the Roy’s team, was employed to collect ecologically valid, dense samples of child speech and visual context, which were analyzed using novel algorithms to reveal children’s developing transition from context-boundedness to extendability. Six families already participating in the parent longitudinal study (three with a child with autism, three with a typically developing child) had a Speechome Recorder installed in one room of their home for up to 12 months. The Speechome Recorder made daily recordings, 2-3 hours in duration, of the target child’s speech, social activity, and physical activity, as well as of the speech and activity of others in the room with the child. Entropy and grammatical analyses of the utterances and their contexts reveal the extent to which children use their speech about more varied referents, in response to more varied utterances and prompts, and in more varied social situations, across time. These findings were compared with comprehension measures from the parent project, and were used as additional early predictors of ASD children’s language abilities at ages 6-8.