Journal of Autism and Developmental Disorders

, Volume 35, Issue 1, pp 15–23 | Cite as

Improvement in Cognitive and Language Skills from Preschool to Adolescence in Autism

  • Marian SigmanEmail author
  • Corina W. McGovern


This paper reports on the developmental progression of a sample of 48 adolescents and young adults with autism who were previously assessed at preschool age and again in the mid-school period. In contrast to the earlier period when about one-third of the children made dramatic gains, cognitive and language skills tended to remain stable or decline over this time span. The gain in mental and language age of the non-retarded adolescents with autism was less than half the change in their chronological age. The mentally retarded adolescents with autism showed some gain in mental age over time but this was far less than their change in chronological age, and they showed almost no gain in language age. Early childhood predictors of language skills in adolescence were functional play skills, responsiveness to others’ bids for joint attention, and the frequency of requesting behaviors.


developmental change communication pretend play language 


Unable to display preview. Download preview PDF.

Unable to display preview. Download preview PDF.


  1. Baldwin, D. A. 1991.Infant’s contribution to the achievement of joint referencingChild Development62875890Google Scholar
  2. Bates, E., Benigini, L., Bretherton, I., Camaioni, L., Volterra, V. 1979The emergence of symbols: Cognition and communication in infancyAcademic PressNew YorkGoogle Scholar
  3. Bayley , N. eds. 1969Bayley scales of infant developmentPsychological CorporationNew YorkGoogle Scholar
  4. Chung, S. Y., Luk, S. L., Lee, P. W. H. 1990A follow-up-study of infantile-autism in Hong-KongJournal of Autism and Developmental Disorders20221232Google Scholar
  5. Eaves, L. C., Ho, H. H. 1996Brief report: stability and change in cognitive and behavioral characteristics of autism through childhoodJournal of Autism and Developmental Disorders26557569Google Scholar
  6. Gillberg, C., Steffenburg, S. 1987Outcome and prognostic factors in infantile-autism and similar conditions – a population-based study of 46 cases followed through pubertyJournal of Autism and Developmental Disorders17273287Google Scholar
  7. Kobayashi, R., Murata, T., Yoshinaga, K. 1992A follow-up-study of 201 children with autism in Kyushu and Yamaguchi areas, JapanJournal of Autism and Developmental Disorders22395411Google Scholar
  8. Lewis, V., Boucher, J., Lupton, L., Watson, S. 2000Relationship between symbolic play, functional play, verbal and non-verbal ability in young childrenInternational Journal of Language and Communication Disorders35117127Google Scholar
  9. Lord, C., Schopler, E. 1989aStability of assessment results of␣autistic and non-autistic language-impaired children from␣preschool years to early school ageJournal of Child Psychology and Psychiatry and Allied Disciplines30575590Google Scholar
  10. Lord, C., Schopler, E. 1989bThe role of age at assessment, developmental level, and test in the stability of intelligence scores in young autistic childrenJournal of Autism and Developmental Disorders19483499Google Scholar
  11. Lord, C., Venter, A 1992Outcome and follow-up studies of high-functioning autistic individualsSchopler, E.Mesibov, G. B. eds. High-functioning individuals with autism. Current issues in autismPlenum PressNew York187199Google Scholar
  12. Lotter, V. 1974.Factors related to outcome in autistic childrenJournal of Autism and Childhood Schizophrenia4263277Google Scholar
  13. Mawhood, L., Howlin, P., Rutter, M. 2000Autism and developmental receptive language disorder—A comparative follow-up in early adult life. I: Cognitive and language outcomesJournal of Child Psychology & Psychiatry & Allied Disciplines41547559Google Scholar
  14. McCune-Nicolich, L. 1981.Toward symbolic functioning: structure of early pretend games and potential parallels with languageChild Development52785797Google Scholar
  15. Mesibov, G.B., & Handlan, S. (1997). Adolescents and adults with autism. In Handbook of Autism and Pervasive Developmental Disorders (2nd ed. pp. 309–322). New York, NY: Cambridge University Press.Google Scholar
  16. Mullen, E. M. 1995Mullen Scales of Early Learning (AGS ed.)American Guidance ServiceCircle Pines, MNGoogle Scholar
  17. Mundy, P., Crowson, M. 1997Joint attention and early social communication: implications for research on intervention with autismJournal of Autism and Developmental Disorders27653676Google Scholar
  18. Mundy, P., Sigman, M. 1989Theoretical implications of joint-attention deficits in autismDevelopment and Psychopathology1173183Google Scholar
  19. Mundy, P., Sigman, M., Kasari, C. 1990A longitudinal study of joint attention and language development in autistic childrenJournal of Autism and Developmental Disorders20115128Google Scholar
  20. Mundy, P., Sigman, M., Kasari, C. 1994Joint attention, developmental level, and symptom presentation in autismDevelopment and Psychopathology6389401Google Scholar
  21. Mundy, P., Sigman, M., Ungerer, J. A., Sherman, T. 1987Nonverbal communication and play correlates of language development in autistic childrenJournal of Autism and Developmental Disorders17349364Google Scholar
  22. Reynell, J.K. 1977Reynell developmental language scalesNFER Publishing CoWindsor, EnglandGoogle Scholar
  23. Schuler, A. L., Wolfberg, J 2000Promoting peer play and socialization: the art of scaffoldingWetherby, A. M.Prizant, B. M. eds. Autism spectrum disorders: A transactional developmental perspectivePaul H. BrookesBaltimore, MD251277Google Scholar
  24. Seibert, J., Hogan, A. J., Mundy, P. 1982Assessing interactional competencies: the early social communication scalesInfant Mental Health Journal3244258Google Scholar
  25. Semel, E., Wiig E. M. & Secord W. (1987). CELF-R, Clinical evaluation of language fundamentals-revisedGoogle Scholar
  26. Sigman, M., Mundy, P., Sherman, T., Ungerer, J. 1986Social interactions of autistic, mentally-retarded and normal children and their caregiversJournal of Child Psychology and Psychiatry and Allied Disciplines27647655Google Scholar
  27. Sigman, M., Ruskin, E. 1999Continuity and change in the social competence of children with autism, Down syndrome, and developmental delaysMonographs of the Society for Research in Child Development641142Google Scholar
  28. Terman, L. M., Merrill, M. A. 1973Form, L. M. eds. Stanford-Binet Intelligence ScaleHoughton-MifflinBoston, MAGoogle Scholar
  29. Thorndike, R. L., Hagen, E. P., Sattler, J. M 1986The Stanford Binet intelligence scale.Riverside Publishing CompanyChicago, ILGoogle Scholar
  30. Ungerer, J. A., Sigman, M. 1981Symbolic play and language comprehension of autistic childrenJournal of the American Academy of Child and Adolescent Psychiatry20318338Google Scholar
  31. Ungerer, J. A., Sigman, M. 1984The relation of play and sensorimotor behavior to language in the second yearChild Development5514481455Google Scholar
  32. Venter, A., Lord, C., Schopler, E. 1992A follow-up-study of high-functioning autistic-childrenJournal of Child Psychology and Psychiatry and Allied Disciplines33489507Google Scholar
  33. Wiig, E. M., Secord, W., Semel, E 1992CELF-P, Clinical evaluation of language fundamentals-preschoolThe Psychological CorporationNew York, NYGoogle Scholar

Copyright information

© Springer Science+Business Media, Inc. 2005

Authors and Affiliations

  1. 1. University of California at Los AngelesLos AnglesUSA
  2. 2.Department of PsychiatryUCLA School of MedicineLos AngelesUSA

Personalised recommendations