Abstract: The Role of Language and Communication Impairments within Autism

GERNSBACHER, M. A., GEYE, H. M., & ELLIS WEISMER, S. (2005). The role of language and communication impairments within autism. In P. Fletcher & J. C. Miller (Eds.), Language disorders and developmental theory. Philadelphia, PA: John Benjamins.
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Delays in language development and impairments in communication ability constitute a defining feature of autism. However, these language and communication impairments can be quite varied, even in classic Autistic Disorder. By current diagnostic definition (ICD-10, World Health Organization 1993; DSM-IV, American Psychiatric Association 1994), these impairments can range from a delay in the development of expressive language to a total lack of expressive language, from problems with initiating or sustaining a conversation to use of stereotyped, repetitive, and idiosyncratic language. In this chapter we first describe the historical interpretation of the basis for the language and communication impairments in autism, beginning with Kanner’s (1943) description of his 11 seminal patients and continuing through the 1990s. We then identify an emerging view of the role of language and communication impairments within autism, namely that they overlap, perhaps considerably, with the language and communication impairments observed outside of autism. We then review numerous empirical studies that have demonstrated this overlap. We conclude by offering recommendations for further, necessary empirical investigations and the theoretical implications of those investigations.