International Meeting for Autism Research: Achievements and Correlations Among Emergent Literacy Skills in Children with Autism Spectrum Disorders

Achievements and Correlations Among Emergent Literacy Skills in Children with Autism Spectrum Disorders

Thursday, May 20, 2010
Franklin Hall B Level 4 (Philadelphia Marriott Downtown)
9:00 AM
E. Lanter , Department of Communication Sciences & Disorders, Radford University, Radford, VA
L. Watson , Allied Health Sciences, University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill, Chapel Hill, NC
D. Freeman , Communication Sciences & Disorders, Radford University, Radford, VA
D. Millar , Communication Sciences & Disorders, Radford University, Radford, VA
A. Lorenzi , Communication Sciences & Disorders, Radford University, Radford, VA
A. Morgan , Communication Sciences & Disorders, Radford University, Radford, VA

Emergent literacy skills lay the foundation for children’s later development of the conventional literacy skills unequivocally required for their educational and vocational success. Unlike children developing typically, surprisingly little research has explored emergent literacy development for children with autism spectrum disorders (ASD). Longitudinal research reveals that for children developing typically, the following emergent literacy skills are predictive of later literacy success: oral language ability (e.g., vocabulary, grammar, story comprehension), print concepts knowledge (i.e., environmental print recognition, knowledge of print forms, conventions, and functions), alphabet knowledge (i.e., letter name and letter sound), emergent writing (e.g., name writing), and phonological awareness knowledge (National Early Literacy Panel, 2007; Scarborough, 1998). These skills are presumably affected by children's interest in literacy and the behaviors of their parents, such as reading to their children (National Research Council, 1998).  


This study sought to describe, for young children with ASD: (a) What emergent literacy skills and understandings they possess in terms of their oral language ability, print concepts knowledge, alphabet knowledge, emergent writing, and phonological awareness knowledge, (b) What associations may exist among these skills, and (c) How these children’s interest in literacy and parents may promote development in these areas.  


Forty-one child participants with ASD between the ages of 4 years, 0 months and 7 years, 11 months were assessed. Assessments of oral language, print concepts, and emergent writing were administered to the children. Parents of thirty-five of these children took part in a structured interview using the Home Emergent Literacy Profile for Children with Autism Spectrum Disorders (Lanter, 2008) which further explored these emergent literacy skills, as well as the children’s phonological awareness, interest in literacy, and behaviors of the parents believed to promote emergent literacy development.   


Approximately 75% of the children in this study had oral language impairments. Their oral language skills, as well as other emergent literacy skills, were moderately to highly correlated with one another (rs between .34-.76). Some children performed better than would be expected on some skills given their oral language ability. Variable performance was observed both within and across emergent literacy skills. Discrete print concepts skills (e.g., environmental print recognition, print conventions such as book orientation) and discrete alphabetic knowledge skills (i.e., letter identification), were relatively stronger than more holistic print concepts skills (e.g., print functions such as pretend reading and understanding the purpose of reading and writing) and holistic oral langauge skills (e.g., story comprehension). A strong interest in literacy was reported for most of the children, as well as active parental teaching of literacy skills.  


The relative difficulty with understanding the social communicative purpose of written communication for the children in this study parallels what we know about conventional literacy and oral language development in children with ASD.  That is, pragmatic language abilities are more universally adversely affected than structural language abilities (Tager-Flusberg, 2004). The implications for educators are to consider the emergent literacy development of children with ASD within a broader linguistic framework, and employ instructional methods that teach the components of literacy in meaningful activities.

See more of: Language
See more of: Autism Symptoms