The Relationship between Parent Responsiveness and Early Language Development in Children at Elevated Likelihood for ASD
Objectives: This study aims to determine if nonverbal and/or verbal parent responsiveness are predictive of later receptive and expressive language skills of children at EL-ASD.
Methods: This study used extant data of 87 children who were identified as at EL-ASD at the age of 12 months based on their scores on the First Year Inventory 2.0 (FYIv2.0). These children were participants in a randomized controlled trial that tested the efficacy of a parent-mediated intervention. The Mullen Scales of Early Learning Receptive and Expressive Language Scales were used to assess the language skills of the children at infancy (13-15 months) and toddlerhood (22-25 months). An interval coding system (adapted from Yoder et al., 2009) was used to measure parent responsiveness within unstructured play. Hierarchical linear regressions were performed to determine if parent responsiveness accounted for unique variance in toddler language scores above the infant language scores and intervention group assignment. A parsimonious model was chosen based on the variables that were significantly associated with the toddler language scores.
Results: The first order correlations revealed that infant receptive language and parent verbal responsiveness to infants (i.e., proportion of intervals in which parents provided verbal responses with or without physical responses), but not nonverbal responsiveness (i.e., proportion of intervals in which parents provided physical responses with or without verbal responses), were significantly correlated with toddler receptive language. A linear regression model that included the infant receptive language scores and controlled for the study group assignment accounted for 22.65% of the variance in the toddler receptive language scores. Parent verbal responsiveness was then added to the model, and was a significant predictor, explaining an additional 14.52% of the variance in toddler receptive language (R2 = 0.37, F (3,79) = 15.58, p<0.01).
Infant receptive and expressive language scores and parent verbal (but not nonverbal) responsiveness to infants all had significant first order correlations with toddler expressive language scores. A linear regression model that included receptive and expressive language scores of infants and study group assignment explained 36.71% of the variance in toddler expressive language scores. When parent verbal responsiveness was added to the model, it was a significant predictor, accounting for an additional 5.7% of the variance in toddler expressive language (R2 = 0.42, F (4,78) = 14.33, p<0.01).
Conclusions: Our findings agree with previous research on the benefits of early parent verbal responsiveness for later language development, extending findings to children at EL-ASD. These results demonstrate the need for parents to provide verbal input that follows into their child’s focus of attention in order to assist in the development of language skills in these children.