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Gesture and language in 2- and 3-year-olds at heightened risk for Autism Spectrum Disorder

McQuiston, Alison (2017) Gesture and language in 2- and 3-year-olds at heightened risk for Autism Spectrum Disorder. Master's Thesis, University of Pittsburgh. (Unpublished)

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Gesture and language development are fundamentally intertwined in typically developing children. Key differences in communicative development are found in children who develop Autism Spectrum Disorder (ASD), making early communication an important focus in promoting early identification. Research has begun to examine the later born siblings of children with ASD, a population found to be at a higher risk of developing ASD and even greater risk for non-ASD language delay. This study investigates the use of gesture and language in children at heightened risk for ASD in order to identify differences based on diagnostic outcome at age 3 (ASD, language delay, or no diagnosis). Participants were 29 toddlers (15 male, 14 female) observed at ages 2 and 3 during 13 minutes of naturalistic semi-structured play with caregivers at home. Language and gesture were transcribed and analyzed in order to: 1) characterize language in the three outcome groups; 2) identify group differences in the way gesture is used in communication; and 3) examine types of gestures that were combined with language at both ages. Overall, the ASD group showed major differences from the language delay and no diagnosis groups. This group displayed reduced language skills, evidenced through fewer different words, shorter utterances, and less growth between 2 and 3 years. They also used proportionally more gesture-only utterances and did not show decreased use of gesture with age to the extent that the other groups did. Furthermore, the children diagnosed with ASD used fewer pointing gestures combined with language. These findings suggest that there are differences in gesture and language use in toddlers at heightened risk for ASD based on diagnostic outcome at age 3; however, further research with larger sample sizes is needed.


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Item Type: University of Pittsburgh ETD
Status: Unpublished
CreatorsEmailPitt UsernameORCID
McQuiston, Alisonamm416@pitt.eduamm416
ETD Committee:
TitleMemberEmail AddressPitt UsernameORCID
Committee CoChairIverson,
Committee CoChairYaruss, J.
Committee MemberMessick,
Committee MemberLundblom,
Date: 5 June 2017
Date Type: Publication
Defense Date: 27 March 2017
Approval Date: 5 June 2017
Submission Date: 6 April 2017
Access Restriction: No restriction; Release the ETD for access worldwide immediately.
Number of Pages: 55
Institution: University of Pittsburgh
Schools and Programs: School of Health and Rehabilitation Sciences > Communication Science and Disorders
Degree: MS - Master of Science
Thesis Type: Master's Thesis
Refereed: Yes
Uncontrolled Keywords: gesture, language, autism
Date Deposited: 05 Jun 2017 17:09
Last Modified: 05 Jun 2017 17:09


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