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Most Kids With Autism Overcome Language Delays, Study Finds
Date:3/5/2013

By Mary Brophy Marcus
HealthDay Reporter

MONDAY, March 4 (HealthDay News) -- Severe language delays early in the life of a child with autism can be overcome, especially if a child exhibits nonverbal intelligence.

A new study that looked at speech delays in children with autism spectrum disorders found that 70 percent of children who were not stringing words together into even the simplest of phrases by age 4 went on to do so by age 8, and in some cases, even achieved fluent speech.

"Autism spectrum disorders" is an umbrella term for neurodevelopmental conditions ranging from Asperger's syndrome to severe autism. Hallmarks of these conditions include problems with social interaction and repetitive behaviors.

The findings, published online March 4 and in the April print issue of the journal Pediatrics, offer hope, said lead author Dr. Ericka Wodka, a neuropsychologist and assistant professor of psychiatry at the Kennedy Krieger Institute's Center for Autism and Related Disorders, in Baltimore.

"The study gives doctors and parents a sense that when these delays persist -- when a child presents at age 6 or 7 without phrase speech -- they still have growth opportunity," Wodka said. "There's still a lot of hope that these children can go on to gain meaningful language."

The scientists evaluated data on more than 500 children with an autism spectrum disorder who were part of a national multisite study that involved complete evaluations on every child.

"Our data are based on actual measurements of current functioning and parent interviews, not chart review," Wodka said.

As toddlers, none of the children in the study had achieved "phrase speech," the ability to put together more than two or three words to communicate -- to say basic sentences such as, "I want juice," for example.

Demographics -- including parent income and education level, and child psychiatric charact
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