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NIDCD Panel Proposes New Benchmarks for Gauging Language Development in Children with Autism

A more standardized approach is needed to evaluate the language skills of young children with autism spectrum disorders, says a soon-to-be published article in the Journal of Speech-Language-Hearing Research. The authors, a panel of experts assembled by the NIDCD, are advocating the new method so that researchers, clinicians, and other professionals are better able to compare the effectiveness of intervention strategies used for treating children with autism spectrum disorders.

Current approaches are inconsistent, and the most widely used benchmark for these children has been the development of “functional speech,” an ambiguous term with no defined criteria.

In designing the new approach, panel members focused on the window of time during which a child develops spoken language, which can be broken down into three phases: the use of a single “first word” to describe an object or event, the combination of two or three words to communicate something, and the progression to complete sentences. The panel recommends the use of several tools to evaluate the child’s language skills, including a sample of the child’s natural conversational patterns, a parent’s description of the child’s language skills, and a standardized test of a child’s language skills. The panel then developed a set of measurable benchmarks for each of the three phases and evaluation tools.

Read the NIDCD article, or read the paper (in press) at NIDCD's Web site.

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