No AccessLanguage, Speech, and Hearing Services in SchoolsResearch Article5 Oct 2017

The Oral Narrative Comprehension and Production Abilities of Verbal Preschoolers on the Autism Spectrum

    Purpose

    This study described the oral narrative comprehension and production skills of verbal preschool-age children on the autism spectrum and investigated correlations between oral narrative ability and norm-referenced language test performance.

    Method

    Twenty-nine preschool-age children (aged 4;0–5;9 years;months) with autism, who obtained an age-equivalent score of at least 36 months on the expressive communication subscale of the Vineland Adaptive Behavior Scales–Second Edition (Sparrow, Cicchetti, & Balla, 2005), participated. Children listened to an unfamiliar fictional narrative and answered comprehension questions afterward. After listening to the narrative a second time, children were asked to retell the narrative without picture support. Narratives were transcribed and analyzed for length, semantic diversity, grammatical complexity and accuracy, intelligibility, inclusion of critical events, and narrative stage.

    Results

    All children participated in the comprehension task, and 19 children produced an analyzable narrative retell. Compared with published data on typically developing children, significant difficulties were observed in narrative comprehension, intelligibility, and grammatical accuracy. Most of the children told descriptive or action sequences, with only 1 child producing an abbreviated episode. Significant positive correlations were found (a) between performance on the Peabody Picture Vocabulary Test–Fourth Edition (Dunn & Dunn, 2007) and semantic diversity and narrative comprehension and (b) between parent-reported receptive communication competence (Vineland Adaptive Behavior Scales–Second Edition) and narrative comprehension.

    Conclusions

    This study provides preliminary evidence of specific difficulties in oral narrative comprehension and production skills in verbal preschoolers on the autism spectrum.

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