(HealthDay News) – Children with autism spectrum disorder who are severely language-delayed are more likely to acquire speech and acquire it earlier if they score higher on nonverbal intelligence tests and are less socially impaired, according to a study published online March 4 in Pediatrics.

Ericka L. Wodka, PhD, and colleagues from the Kennedy Krieger Institute in Baltimore, analyzed data from 535 children with autism spectrum disorder (at least eight years old) who did not acquire phrase speech before four years of age.

The researchers found that after four years of age, 70% of children acquired phrase speech and 47% acquired fluent speech. After controlling for a number of variables, higher nonverbal intelligence quotient and less social impairment independently predicted the acquisition of both phrase and fluent speech and their acquisition at an earlier age. Delayed speech acquisition was not associated with stereotyped behavior, repetitive interests, or sensory interests.

“This study highlights that many severely language-delayed children in the present sample attained phrase or fluent speech at or after age 4 years,” Wodka and colleagues conclude. “These data also implicate the importance of evaluating and considering nonverbal skills, both cognitive and social, when developing interventions and setting goals for language development.”

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