Skip to main content
Meta-analysis of receptive and expressive language skills in autism spectrum disorder
Research in Autism Spectrum Disorders
  • Elaine Yuen Ling Kwok, Health and Rehabilitation Science, Western University
  • Heather M Brown, Department of Psychology, Western University
  • Rachael E Smyth, Health and Rehabilitation Science, Western University
  • Janis Oram Cardy, School of Communication Sciences and Disorders, Western University
Document Type
Publication Date
URL with Digital Object Identifier

Clinical anecdotes suggest that children with autism spectrum disorder (ASD) often show an atypical language profile in which expressive language exceeds receptive language competency. However, the few studies to directly explore this language profile have yielded inconsistent findings. This meta-analysis examined 74 studies that reported the receptive and expressive language performances of children and youth with ASD. Four potential predictors (age, language domain, source of language data, method of ASD diagnosis) were separately analyzed for their contribution to the relative receptive and expressive language impairment in ASD. Contrary to popular belief, the current meta-analyses found no evidence that an expressive advantage is common in ASD. Overall, children and youth with ASD showed equally impaired receptive and expressive language skills, both falling roughly 1.5 SD below peers with typical development. No discrepancies were found in receptive and expressive language across developmental stages, cognitive abilities, vocabulary, global language skills, caregiver report measures, clinician- administered measures, mixed method measures, or method of ASD diagnosis. Although some individual children with ASD may have an expressive-better-than-receptive language profile, this profile is not common enough to be a useful marker of ASD.

Citation Information
Kwok, E. Y., Brown, H. M., Smyth, R. E., & Cardy, J. O. (2015). Meta-analysis of receptive and expressive language skills in autism spectrum disorder. Research in Autism Spectrum Disorders, 9, 202-222.