Communication difficulties are common among students diagnosed with ASD (Saulnier & Ventola, 2014), and in fact represent the core of autism (APA, 2013). Social communication includes more than words and grammatical correctness. It includes such skills as back-and-forth social interaction, pointing, sharing information, conversation, perspective-taking, and understanding social situations. Recognizing different patterns of social communication impairment indicate different individual needs and, therefore, intervention decision-making (Lloyd & Paintin, 2006). Many children with ASD can regulate their caregiver’s behaviors by requesting or protesting; they may also label objects and events in the environment or talk in full sentences. Despite these peripheral linguistic skills, they fail to share information with others and communicate within a social context (Rollins, 2014). Some of these children can perform within normal limits on standardized tests of speech or language, particularly if the assessment only requires them to look at and respond to static pictures. Therefore, standardized assessment tools are only a starting point in ASD evaluations and should be used in conjunction with parent and teacher interviews, observations in multiple contexts (e.g., 1:1 and group interactions with familiar and unfamiliar persons, interactions with adults and with peers), and informal communication and language samples. For example, an informal communication assessment could include the range of communicative intentions, cohesion, responsiveness to speech (i.e., the proportion of adult utterances to which the child responds), mean length of utterance (MLU), echolalia, pronoun use, discourse management (e.g., topic maintenance, turn taking, appropriate topic shifts), register variation (i.e., using appropriate language forms with different conversational partners and in varying situations), and presupposition (i.e., the understanding of what it is reasonable to assume the communication partner knows) (Paul, 2007). What is analyzed is determined by the student’s age and language abilities.
In ASD evaluations, it is critical to include speech and language pathologists (SLPs). As a member of the multidisciplinary team, the SLP administers standardized assessment tools in the areas of speech and language functioning and should be skilled in providing informal assessments of social communication to determine a disability in the area of speech, language, or social communication. “Given the importance of social communication in the diagnosis of ASD, the SLP plays an important role in both screening and diagnosis” (ASHA, 2006, p. 1). Because autism spectrum disorder (ASD) is a social communication disorder, children identified with ASD usually require the service of an SLP.
Common approaches to assessment in the social-language-communication domain include direct assessment with standardized instruments, as well as rating scales from parents and/or teachers, student interviews, and direct and systematic observations. Language and communication assessment for young students with preverbal/prelinguistic skills should include an assessment of the prelinguistic predictors of language and communication. Prelingusitic predictors include the use of communicative gaze and gestures, quality of vocalizations, joint attention, vocabulary comprehension, and quality of play (Paul, 2007; Rollins, 2014). In addition, rate of communication, range of communicative functions expressed (i.e., behavior regulatory functions versus social functions), and responsiveness to speech and gestures can be measured, and an assessment for use of an augmentative communication device (AAC) can be performed.
Included within this section of the TARGET is summary information about the following assessments for speech-language-communication assessment:
- Children’s Communication Checklist-Second Edition (CCC-2)
- Clinical Evaluation of Language Fundamentals- Fifth Edition (CELF-5)
- Clinical Evaluation of Language Fundamentals- Preschool-2 (CELF-Preschool-2)
- Communication and Symbolic Behavior Scales (CSBS)
- Comprehensive Assessment of Spoken Language, Second Edition (CASL-2)
- Expressive Vocabulary Test Third Edition (EVT-3)
- Language Curriculum-Referenced Assessment (LCRA)
- Peabody Picture Vocabulary Test Fifth Edition (PPVT-5)
- Pragmatic Language Observation Scale (PLOS)
- Preschool Language Scale Fifth Edition (PLS-5)
- Receptive-Expressive Emergent Language Scale- Third Edition (REEL-3)
- Test for Auditory Comprehension of Language- Fourth Edition (TACL-4)
- Test of Expressive Language (TEXL)
- Test of Language Development- Intermediate-4 (TOLD: I-4)
- Test of Language Development- Primary-5 (TOLD: I-5)
- Test of Pragmatic Language- Second Edition (TOPL-2)
- Test of Problem Solving- Elementary, Third Edition Normative Update (TOPS-3E:NU)
- Test of Problem Solving 2: Adolescent (TOPS-2:A)
- The Communication Matrix
- The Rossetti Infant-Toddler Language Scale
The following summary of speech-language-communication assessments is not intended to be all-inclusive. Rather, the assessments were selected based on their prevalence within clinical and academic settings as well as their relevance to children with ASD.