GERNSBACHER, M. A., SAUER, E. A., GEYE, H. M., SCHWEIGERT, E. K., & GOLDSMITH, H. H. (2008). Infant and toddler oral- and manual-motor skills predict later speech fluency in autism. Journal of Child Psychology and Psychiatry.
Background: Spoken and gestural communication proﬁciency varies greatly among autistic individuals. Three studies examined the role of oral- and manual-motor skill in predicting autistic children’s speech development. Methods: Study 1 investigated whether infant and toddler oral- and manual-motor skills predict middle childhood and teenage speech ﬂuency; Study 2 veriﬁed those early infant and toddler predictions with historical home video; and Study 3 assessed the relation between autistic children’s current-day oral-motor skill and their speech ﬂuency. Results: Infant and toddler oral-motor and manual-motor skills inter-correlated signiﬁcantly, distinguished autistic children (N ¼ 115) from typically developing children (N ¼ 44), and distinguished autistic children whose current-day speech was minimally ﬂuent (N ¼ 33), moderately ﬂuent (N ¼ 39), and highly ﬂuent (N ¼ 39). These results were corroborated by analysis of historical home video (N ¼ 32) and veriﬁed with current-day assessment (N ¼ 40). Conclusions: The prominent associations among early oral- and manual-motor skills and later speech ﬂuency bear implications for understanding communication in autism. For instance, these associations challenge the common assumption (made even in diagnostic criteria) that manual modes of communication are available to autistic individuals – if simply they choose to use them. These associations also highlight a potential confound from manual-motor skills when assessing autistic cognition, receptive language, and ‘nonverbal’ social communication. Keywords: Early motor development, autism, communication, dyspraxia, motor skills. Abbreviations: ADOS: Autism Diagnostic Observation Schedule.