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Language Predictors in Autism Spectrum Disorder: Insights from Neurodevelopmental Profile in a Longitudinal Perspective


Language outcome in individuals with autism spectrum disorder (ASD) is predicted by early developmental milestones and cognitive abilities. The development and acquisition of expressive language (particularly the onset of first phrases) is a relevant clinical milestone by school age, since its early presentation is associated to better long-term life outcomes and to lower core clinical severity of ASD. Focusing on predictors of language in ASD children, a number of outstanding questions remain to be answered, namely, whether there are differences in the early key neurodevelopmental abilities and whether those differences in a specific period of time might predict verbal development and acquisition of expressive language. We aim to understand how the neurodevelopmental profile of ASD children evolves from the preschool to the school age and if and which subarea can better predict acquisition of expressive language. Children with ASD (N = 205) were evaluated with a structured assessment of neurodevelopment in two different age periods: 1) preschool period (mean age four years) and 2) reassessment in the school period (mean age seven years). Our findings demonstrate that in nonverbal preschool children with ASD normal or near normal Performance Developmental Quotient (superior to 73.5) evaluated at preschool age is a good predictor of later language development in ASD, which has important implications for intervention programs targeting this population and family information.

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This research was supported by the Portuguese Foundation for Science and Technology: individual PhD scholarship: SFRH/BD/102779/2014 to SM and MEDPERSYST - Redes Sinápticas e abordagens compreensivas de medicina personalizada em doenças neurocomportamentais ao longo da vida (POCI-01-0145-FEDER-016428) [postdoctoral fellowship to BRC]. The funders had no role in study design, data collection and analysis, decision to publish or preparation of the manuscript.

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Correspondence to Susana Mouga.

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All authors have declared that no conflict of interests exists.

Ethical Approval

All the procedures in this study were reviewed in accordance with the ethical standards and approved by the Health Ethics Commission of our Hospital (Hospital Pediátrico, Centro Hospitalar e Universitário de Coimbra) and were conducted in accordance with the 1964 Helsinki declaration and its later amendments or comparable ethical standards.

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The clinicians obtained informed consent from the parents/guardians of all younger participants. Children, when competent to do so, also gave oral informed consent. The database is approved by the Portuguese Data Protection Authority.

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Mouga, S., Correia, B.R., Café, C. et al. Language Predictors in Autism Spectrum Disorder: Insights from Neurodevelopmental Profile in a Longitudinal Perspective. Res Child Adolesc Psychopathol 48, 149–161 (2020).

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