Early Social Communication Predictors of Emergent Literacy Skills in Preschool Children with Autism Spectrum Disorder

Saturday, May 13, 2017: 12:00 PM-1:40 PM
Golden Gate Ballroom (Marriott Marquis Hotel)
V. P. Reinhardt1,2 and A. Wetherby2, (1)MIND Institute, University of California Davis, Davis, CA, (2)Florida State University Autism Institute, Tallahassee, FL

Reading proficiency is pivotal for academic success, with wide ranging societal, educational, and economic costs associated with low literacy attainment (Baer, Kutner, Sabatini, & White, 2009). The core social communication features and associated language difficulties frequently observed in children with Autism Spectrum Disorder (ASD) place them at risk for developing reading difficulties (Ricketts, Jones, Happé, & Charman, 2013). Reading difficulties (RD) are among the most common and persistent areas of learning challenges in students with ASD (Huemer & Mann, 2010; Randi, Newman, & Grigorenko, 2010). Preschool emergent literacy (EL) skills are developmental precursors to school-age literacy and academic skills and provide the means to identify children at risk for RD early. The literature examining EL skills in children with ASD is limited, and few investigations have examined predictors of EL skills.


To examine the relations between early social communication (18-24 months) and preschool emergent literacy skills in a longitudinal sample of children with ASD.


Children in the current study (n=45; 38 male) were recruited from the FIRST WORDS®Project (Wetherby et al., 2004), a prospective longitudinal study of children at the Florida State University Autism Institute. Children in the current study completed the Communication and Symbolic Behavior Scales (CSBS) Behavior Sample between 18-24 months (M= 21.45, SD= 1.37) and a comprehensive language and literacy battery around 4-5 years of age (M= 60.34, SD= 4.57). To confirm ASD diagnosis, all children participated in a comprehensive ASD evaluation battery that included the Autism Diagnostic Observation Schedule, Mullen Scales of Early Learning and Vineland Adaptive Behavior Scales and received a best-estimate diagnosis of ASD. EL skills including print knowledge and phonological awareness were measured using the development version of the Test of Preschool Early Literacy (Lonigan, Wagner, Torgesen, & Rashotte, 2007). Oral language was evaluated using the Clinical Evaluation of Language Fundamentals- Preschool (Wiig, Secord & Semel, 1992), Peabody Picture Vocabulary Test-III (Dunn & Dunn, 1997), and the Expressive One-Word Picture Vocabulary Test-Revised (Brownell, 2000). Nonverbal cognitive functioning was measured using three subtests of the Stanford-Binet Intelligence Scale, Fourth Edition (SB-IV; Thorndike, Hagen, & Sattler, 1986).


Predictive relations between CSBS cluster scores and latent preschool Oral Language, Phonological Awareness, and Print Knowledge variables were examined using multiple regression. Findings indicated moderate, significant relations between the CSBS Emotion and Eye Gaze cluster and preschool oral language (r = 0.49, p = 0.001) and between the CSBS Understanding Cluster and preschool oral language (r = 0.50, p < 0.001). In addition, there was a moderate, significant predictive relation between the CSBS Understanding cluster and preschool phonological awareness (r = 0.31, p< 0.05).


These findings provide preliminary evidence that early social communication skills in the second year of life may offer a useful strategy to predict later language and reading difficulties. Delineating predictors of EL has important implications for understanding how early social communication deficits impact the development of reading in children with ASD.