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. The proposed study investigates two interrelated questions: First, are the processes of language acquisition and development in autism similar to that of typically developing children? And second, what do language comprehension measures reveal about the processes and products of language acquisition in children with autism? The proposed longitudinal study will use a language comprehension paradigm (Intermodal Preferential Looking, IPL) that has revealed important information about language in typically children between 15 and 36 months of age but has only just begun to be used with autism. It combines the ability to display dynamic events with the necessity of only minimal response (visual fixation) and may reveal strengths and weaknesses not shown on standardized testing. Participants will be 18-42 months old, recently diagnosed with autism/PDD and about to begin an Applied Behavior Analysis (ABA) program. A baseline assessment before treatment will be followed by assessments at 4-month intervals for 2+years, plus a final assessment at 6-8 years. IPL will b used to examine multiple aspects of language such as word order in sentences and biases in word learning; the children will also be videotaped during naturalistic interaction with their mothers to provide information about spontaneous language production. Standardized assessments of the children's linguistic, nonverbal, and social functioning will also be obtained. Analyses will focus on (a) the degree to which comprehension precedes production, (b) the degree to which preferential looking measures reveal more language abilities than are demonstrated with traditional response methods and tests, (c) whether language development in ABA-treated children with autism follows typical progressions and inherent biases, and (d) how early patterns of language development might predict ASD children's language abilities at ages 6-8.

Public Health Relevance

This project has the potential to provide useful new information to aid in developing treatment plans for children with autism. The project may pinpoint subtle deficits and strengths in the language of children with autism, as well as to illuminate possibly different developmental pathways in their language acquisition, both of which may guide new treatment protocols, especially early in development. ? ? ?

National Institute of Health (NIH)
National Institute on Deafness and Other Communication Disorders (NIDCD)
Research Project (R01)
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Study Section
Special Emphasis Panel (ZRG1-BBBP-C (02))
Program Officer
Cooper, Judith
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University of Connecticut
Schools of Arts and Sciences
United States
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Jyotishi, Manya; Fein, Deborah A; Naigles, Letitia R (2017) ""Didn't I just say that?"" Comparing parent report and spontaneous speech as indicators of grammatical development. Res Dev Disabil 61:32-43
Naigles, Letitia R; Cheng, Michelle; Rattansone, Nan Xu et al. (2016) ""You're telling me!"" The Prevalence and Predictors of Pronoun Reversals in Children with Autism Spectrum Disorders and Typical Development. Res Autism Spectr Disord 27:11-20
Tovar, Andrea T; Fein, Deborah; Naigles, Letitia R (2015) Grammatical aspect is a strength in the language comprehension of young children with autism spectrum disorder. J Speech Lang Hear Res 58:301-10
Goodwin, Anthony; Fein, Deborah; Naigles, Letitia (2015) The role of maternal input in the development of wh-question comprehension in autism and typical development. J Child Lang 42:32-63
Tek, Saime; Mesite, Laura; Fein, Deborah et al. (2014) Longitudinal analyses of expressive language development reveal two distinct language profiles among young children with autism spectrum disorders. J Autism Dev Disord 44:75-89
Naigles, Letitia R; Bavin, Edith L (2013) Introduction: special issue on atypical development. J Child Lang 40:1-10
Naigles, Letitia R; Kelley, Elizabeth; Troyb, Eva et al. (2013) Residual difficulties with categorical induction in children with a history of autism. J Autism Dev Disord 43:2048-61
Naigles, Letitia R; Tovar, Andrea T (2012) Portable Intermodal Preferential Looking (IPL): investigating language comprehension in typically developing toddlers and young children with autism. J Vis Exp :e4331
Goodwin, Anthony; Fein, Deborah; Naigles, Letitia R (2012) Comprehension of wh-questions precedes their production in typical development and autism spectrum disorders. Autism Res 5:109-23
Tek, Saime; Jaffery, Gul; Swensen, Lauren et al. (2012) The Shape Bias is Affected by Differing Similarity Among Objects. Cogn Dev 27:28-38

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