Note: Most Internet Explorer 8 users encounter issues playing the presentation videos. Please update your browser or use a different one if available.

The Development of Early Literacy Skills Among Young Children with ASD: Predictors of Change Over Time Across Literacy Skill Domains

Thursday, 2 May 2013: 14:00-18:00
Banquet Hall (Kursaal Centre)
J. Blacher1, A. Eisenhower2, L. A. Tipton3, S. Kaplan-Levy4 and J. M. Wilson4, (1)University of California - Riverside, Los Angeles, CA, (2)Psychology, University of Massachusetts Boston, Boston, MA, (3)University of California, Riverside, Anaheim, CA, (4)University of Massachusetts Boston, Boston, MA

The development of literacy skills is a central goal of children’s early school years, yet the literacy development of children with ASD is not well understood.  Skills across the “Big Five” literacy domains may develop unevenly for children with ASD  (Whalon & Hart, 2011); in particular, encoding may be a relative strength while comprehension may be a relative weakness for children with ASD (Nation et al., 2006). Too, there may be different pathways to literacy success for children with ASD compared to children with neurotypical development (Asberg et al., 2010).  In particular, social skills, and the ability to connect with teachers and learn from teacher-child interactions, are crucial to academic skill development (Pianta & Stuhlman, 2004). Among children with ASD, social-communicative functioning may be a particularly strong determinant of learning and literacy growth over time.


Our paper will present the profiles of literacy development in young children with ASD across five areas (vocabulary, encoding, fluency, alphabet knowledge, and comprehension) and trajectories of literacy performance across 1.5 years. We examine child characteristics that predict baseline literacy skills and change over time, as well as teacher qualities and aspects of classrooms and services that predict changes in literacy skills. 


Children ages 4-7 (80% boys) who meet criteria for autism or ASD on the ADOS and score at or above 50 on a brief IQ assessment are evaluated four times over 1.5 years. Enrollment is underway (n=113 to date).  Assessments of literacy include subtests of the Woodcock-Johnson Tests of Achievement, 3rd Edition and grade-level probes on the AIMSweb system.


Paralleling the wide IQ range in our sample, literacy skills also ranged widely. By the start of the school year, an aggregate profile was evident, marked by a relative strength in basic decoding skills (M=113.8, SD=18.3), a relative weakness in picture vocabulary (M=98.9, SD=13.9), and moderate performance in fluency (M=106.0, SD=16.4) and alphabet and word knowledge (M=109.6, SD=16.9).  This profile was highly consistent 6 months later; reading comprehension was also age-appropriate (M=100.6, SD=17.4).

Consistent with non-ASD samples, 23-45% of the variances in literacy skills across domains were explained by child characteristics (here, IQ, language ability, ASD severity, behavior problems, and social skills).  With regard to skill development over time, hierarchical regressions revealed that child cognitive ability predicted growth in vocabulary above and beyond baseline vocabulary, whereas higher baseline language ability predicted marginally greater growth in reading fluency.  Interestingly, only social skills, but no other child characteristics, predicted unique growth in decoding skills. 

Subsequent analyses with the complete sample will use structural equation modeling to examine change in literacy skills over time, including the relative contributions of teacher and classroom factors to literacy outcomes and the reciprocal associations between child characteristics and literacy outcomes over time. 


Preliminary results suggest that literacy development for children with ASD is impacted by distinct child characteristics that may differ from children without ASD. Discussion will address implications for school-based interventions aimed at psychosocial and academic adjustment for young children with ASD.

| More