Vocalization Rate and Consonant Production in Toddlers at High and Low Risk for Autism

Background: Previous work has documented lower vocalization rate and consonant acquisition delays in toddlers with autism spectrum disorder (ASD). We investigated differences in these variables at 12, 18, and 24 months in toddlers at high and low risk for ASD.

Method: Vocalization rate and number of different consonants were obtained from speech samples from a prospective study of infant siblings of children with ASD. Three groups were compared: 18 toddlers at low risk for ASD (low-risk control), 18 high-risk siblings without ASD (HRA-), and 10 high-risk siblings with ASD (HRA+).

Results: All groups’ mean language scores were within the normal range. HRA+ toddlers showed consistently lower vocalization rate; vocalization rate did not predict number of different consonants at 12 months for HRA+. HRA-, not HRA+, toddlers had the smallest number of different consonants and produced significantly fewer different consonants than predicted by their vocalization rate at 12 months. Consonant-acquisition trajectories differed between groups, with HRA- showing the greatest increase from 12 to 18 months.

Conclusion: Lower vocalization rate was not associated with reduced number of different consonants in these toddlers. Between-groups differences in developmental trajectories are discussed in the context of the social feedback loop and differential ability to benefit from adult feedback between groups.