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Autism Spectrum Disorder and Developmental Language Disorder

Conti-Ramsden, G., Simkin, Z., & Botting, N. (2006). The prevalence of autistic spectrum disorders in adolescents with a history of specific language impairment (SLI). Journal of Child Psychology and Psychiatry, 47(6), 621-628.

Aim of the paper:

This paper looks at 76 children with DLD (or SLI as discussed in this paper) recruited from language units attached to mainstream schools when they were 7. When they were 14, these children were evaluated for Autism using an observational measure (Autism Diagnostic Observation Schedule) as well as a parent report of their child’s behaviour (Autism Diagnostic Interview-Revised). The aim of this paper is to look at the prevalence of Autism diagnosis and symptoms in a sample of children identified as having DLD.

What was found:

  • About 70% of the sample showed no signs of Autism at all.

  • About 26% showed some signs of Autism but did meet criteria for diagnosis

  • Most of the 26% children showing some signs of autism met criteria on the social and communication aspects of an Autism Diagnosis, but fewer met criteria on the “stereotyped behaviours”.

  • The rate of Autism at age 14 was 3.9% in this sample of children with identified DLD (not Autism) at age 7.

What does this mean?

It is important to remember that children should show signs of Autism by age 7, when all children were initial recruited. At both age 7 and age 14, these children had no official diagnosis of Autism. The results suggest that some children with DLD may develop more Autistic-like behaviours as they develop, particularly in relation to social and communication difficulties. However, the majority of children with DLD do not develop these symptoms. The authors did find an elevated rate of children who met criteria for Autism, which was about 4 times the prevalence rate for Autism.

This paper indicates that some children with DLD may develop traits that look like Autism, but parents should be reassured that this does not mean they would meet criteria for Autism. The difficulties these children exhibit – social and communication difficulties - are common in children with DLD as well as children with Autism. However, a minority of children with DLD do seem to develop a profile that is consistent with a full autism diagnosis. This indicates if parent does have severe concerns, it be worth considering an autism assessment later in development.

Where can I read this paper?

This paper is not open access and was published before it was standard practice to host an accepted version online that could be easily accessed. If you wish to read the full paper, please email


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