Longitudinal adaptation in language development: a study of typically-developing children and children with ASD

Ethan Weed, Riccardo Fusaroli, Deborah Fein, Letitia Naigles

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Background: Children with Autism Spectrum Disorder (ASD) often display distinctive language development trajectories (Tek et al., 2013). Because language-learning is a social endeavor, these trajectories could be partially grounded in the dynamics that characterize the children's social and linguistic interactions. We hypothesized a social feedback loop, in which children's and parent's behavior mutually influence one another over time. According to this model, children's behavior is predicted from their parent’s previous behavior, while parents’ behavior in turn is influenced by the child’s previous behavior. In this study, we tested this model of mutual influence in a longitudinal corpus (6 visits over 2 years), consisting of 30 minutes of controlled playful activities between parents and 66 children (33 ASD and 33 matched typically developing (TD), Goodwin et al. 2012). Methods: We first quantified amount (number of word tokens), and complexity (number of word types and number of word types divided by number of utterances) of the participants’ lexical behavior. Longitudinal adaptation was defined as the amount of variance a child’s/parent’s behavior at visit N explained in the parent’s/child’s behavior at visit N+1 (baselined for her/his behavior at visit N). We used mixed-effects growth curve models to identify the children’s developmental trajectories, and to investigate longitudinal adaptation. The models included random intercepts and slopes to account for individual and group variability.Results:Developmental trajectories: Our models described the developmental trajectories (0.3 < R2m < 0.41, p<0.0001). For all measures we found main effects of time (β: 2.46 to 3.71) and ASD (β: from -1.14 to -0.86), with an interaction between the two (children with ASD showed shallower trajectories, β: -2.43 to -1.02).Longitudinal adaptation: Our models described longitudinal adaptation for the number of word types and tokens (0.3 < R2m < 0.7, p<0.0001), but not for number of types per utterance (p<0.4). Children adapted to parents (β: 0.04 to 0.05), but children with ASD did so to a lesser degree (β: -84.58 to -27.42). Parents adapted equally to children both with and without ASD (β: 0.18 to 0.19).Discussion:We investigated a model in which children and parents mutually influence each other’s linguistic behavior over time, and asked whether this mechanism is different in children with ASD and their parents. Our results suggest that a quantifiable feedback loop between parents and children does in exist in language development, and that this feedback loop is affected by autism. This mutual adaptation mechanism appears to be in place in interactions between parents and children with ASD, though less strongly than in interactions with TD children. This may partially account for the shallower, but still present linguistic trajectories observed in children with ASD. Future directions include analysis of syntactic development, and investigation of the predictive value of alignment between parent and child within an interaction on later interactions.
Original languageEnglish
Publication date2015
Publication statusPublished - 2015
Event2015 Society for Research in Child Development Biennial Meeting - Philadelphia, United States
Duration: 19 Mar 201521 Mar 2015


Conference2015 Society for Research in Child Development Biennial Meeting
Country/TerritoryUnited States


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