The Preschool Language Scale, Fourth Edition (PLS–4; Zimmerman, Steiner, & Pond, 2002) was used to examine syntactic and semantic language skills in preschool children with autism spectrum disorders (ASD) to determine its suitability for use with this population. We expected that PLS–4 performance would be better in more intellectually able children and that receptive skills would be relatively more impaired than expressive abilities, consistent with previous findings in the area of vocabulary.
Our sample consisted of 294 newly diagnosed preschool children with ASD. Children were assessed via a battery of developmental measures, including the PLS–4.
As expected, PLS–4 scores were higher in more intellectually able children with ASD, and overall, expressive communication was higher than auditory comprehension. However, this overall advantage was not stable across nonverbal developmental levels. Expressive skills were significantly better than receptive skills at the youngest developmental levels, whereas the converse applied in children with more advanced development.
The PLS–4 can be used to obtain a general index of early syntax and semantic skill in young children with ASD. Longitudinal data will be necessary to determine how the developmental relationship between receptive and expressive language skills unfolds in children with ASD.