There is a new, interesting, study on ASD (mostly autism) and language development (http://www.pnas.org/content/early/2010/07/08/1003882107.full.pdf and http://www.pnas.org/content/suppl/2010/07/09/1003882107.DCSupplemental/sapp.pdf).
The study does a good job in differentiating ASDs from typically developing infants / children, as well as language delayed children. It does this with the help of child developmental theories and automatic classification of sounds in natural settings. It finds three acoustic factors belived to be involved in typical language acquisition, and medium length of utterances, to cluster together and discriminate ASDs from typical development pretty well. It finds that the these same factors show good age-correlation for typically developping children, but not for autistics.
This is all very good, but what does this say about language acquistion in ASDs? I’m afraid it has nothing at all to say about how language acquisition occurs in autism, and even more problematic, it might lead to ASD infants being subjected to intensive ABA programs in order to acquire language like typically developing children.
So, how do autistics acquire language? If they lack babbling, cooing, and largely innate language acqusition traits that just need some parameter adjustments, how exactly do they acquire language? If they largely lack the whole packet of specific adaptations, it seems more like a miracle that any autistic child could acquire language, when the fact is that most eventually do. It seems like they would need some powerful alternative.
Aspie-quiz has a possible clue. Even adult Aspies have a preference to mimick animal sounds. This is part of the Aspie hunting adaptations, that are largely shared with Aspie communication traits. Having absolute pitch is also related to the Aspie phenotype. It seems reasonable that Neanderthal infants would be experimenting with animal vocalizations, as this was a key survival trait. Thus, it could be that Aspie infants have natural predispositions to imitate and exeriment with animal vocalizations. This could provide a way into language acquisition as well. The child could crack the code of language by utilizing it’s expert abilities to dechiffer animal communications.
An additional common difference between neurotypicals and Aspies is how memories are organized. Neurotypicals typically use verbal memories in the left hemisphere while Aspies often use non-verbal memories in the right hemisphere. With non-verbal memories, there is a need for a translator into verbal representation, and finally into utterances. It could be that the whole transformation from non-verbal representation to utterances is learned mechanically by Aspies.
What we would need in a future study is new parameters that are related to mimicking animal sounds, rather than typical language acqusition. Without some parameters in the Aspie populations that show correlation with age, we have no idea how Aspies acquire language.