Reading, Oral Language, and Working Memory in Children and Adolescents with Autism Spectrum Disorder

Reading, Oral Language, and Working Memory in Children and Adolescents with Autism Spectrum Disorder

First Author: Meghan Davidson -- University of Kansas
Additional authors/chairs: 
Margarita Kaushanskaya; Susan Ellis Weismer
Keywords: Reading comprehension, Working memory, Oral Language, Decoding, Autism Spectrum Disorder
Abstract / Summary: 

Purpose: Reading ability is variable in autism spectrum disorder (ASD), but approximately 65% of individuals with ASD who can read some words have reading comprehension deficits (Nation, et al., 2006). The factors leading to these deficits are not well understood. As proposed by the Simple View of Reading, decoding and oral language abilities may contribute to reading comprehension abilities in individuals with ASD (Brown, et al., 2013), but the contribution of other predictors, such as working memory (WM), have not been evaluated in this population. Employing an individual differences approach, we examined, separately in TD and ASD individuals, the relationships of oral language and nonverbal WM to reading comprehension.

Method: Children and adolescents (8-14 years) with ASD (n=24) and TD peers (n=23) participated in this study. In order to identify the separate contributions of oral language and WM to reading comprehension (Woodcock Reading Mastery Test), we used a nonverbal measure of WM (Corsi Blocks).

Results: Initial bivariate correlations as well as a series of regression analyses indicated that in the TD group, both decoding and oral language were significantly correlated to passage comprehension, but oral language was the only significant predictor when both were entered into a regression model. Notably, nonverbal WM was not related to passage comprehension in the TD group. Both oral language and nonverbal WM were significantly correlated to passage comprehension in ASD, but neither was significant after accounting for decoding.

Conclusion: Although decoding, nonverbal WM, and oral language were tightly linked constructs in individuals with ASD, decoding continued to be the most influential predictor of passage comprehension in our group of children and adolescents with ASD. Future research should examine whether the contribution of WM and oral language varies with the relative difficulty or type of the reading comprehension task.