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Lang Cogn Process. 2001 Apr 1;16(2-3):287-308.

An Investigation of Language Impairment in Autism: Implications for Genetic Subgroups.

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Eunice Kennedy Shriver Center.


Autism involves primary impairments in both language and communication, yet in recent years the main focus of research has been on the communicative deficits that define the population. The study reported in this paper investigated language functioning in a group of 89 children diagnosed with autism using the ADI-R, and meeting DSM-IV criteria. The children, who were between 4- and 14- years-old were administered a battery of standardized language tests tapping phonological, lexical, and higher-order language abilities. The main findings were that among the children with autism there was significant heterogeneity in their language skills, although across all the children, articulation skills were spared. Different subgroups of children with autism were identified on the basis on their performance on the language measures. Some children with autism have normal language skills; for other children, their language skills are significantly below age expectations. The profile of performance across the standardized measures for the language-impaired children with autism was similar to the profile that defines the disorder specific language impairment (or SLI). The implications of this language impaired subgroup in autism for understanding the genetics and definition of both autism and SLI are discussed.

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