Parent report data on early language development measured using the MacArthur Communicative Development Inventory (CDI–Infant Form) was collected on 134 preschool children with autism spectrum disorder. The pattern of development of understanding of phrases, word comprehension and expression, and production of gestures, was compared to the typical pattern. In common with typical development there was considerable variability in language acquisition, although for the group as a whole this was significantly delayed compared to the normal course. In addition, atypical patterns were identified in the emergence of language skills in the sample. Comprehension of words was delayed in comparison to word production, and production of early gestures (involving sharing reference) was delayed relative to production of later gestures (involving use of objects). However, other aspects of language development were similar to that found in typically developing infants, including word comprehension being in advance of word production in absolute terms, gesture production acting as a ‘bridge’ between word comprehension and word production and the broad pattern of acquisition across word categories and word forms. The implications for assessment and intervention with preschool children with autism spectrum disorder are discussed.
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