Evaluating language structures such as syntax and morphology, which are routinely found on standardized language tests, are not a priority for children with ASD; they are not sensitive to the extent to which an individual with ASD, especially one of toddler age, is able to communicate effectively with relevant others in his or her everyday social environment (Schuler et al., 1989). Any standardized language measure should be interpreted with caution as individuals with ASD struggle with the acquisition of communicative skills more than language abilities per se (Paul, 1995); even when language is acquired, children with ASD are challenged in the effective use of language as a social tool to communicate (Wetherby & Prizant, 1989).
For this reason, several types of informal, qualitative analyses should be utilized to assess the child’s communication abilities in everyday interactions. An interview with the primary caretaker(s) to discover the child’s communicative means and functions is an important piece of the assessment. In addition, a communication sample, elicited during several of the child’s typical activities, will assist in quantitatively documenting their self-initiated as well as responsive communication means and functions. Other important informal assessments include: a qualitative analysis of the factors that appear to affect language comprehension; as well as observations of the interactions between the child and the primary caregivers to help identify the features of the adult’s communication style that enhance the child’s communicative competence and to help identify needed modifications in the adult’s style (Quill, 1995). It is essential that some measures reflect the toddler’s abilities in the natural social context, the true demonstration of communicative competence (Schuler et al., 1989). These measures can be obtained from informally created protocols and/or standardized social-communication scales. These types of assessment tools are discussed below.
The caregiver interview can be used to evaluate communicative behaviors at the prelinguistic level and provide input pertinent to the development of an instruction program (Schuler et al., 1989), as well as document the child’s range of communicative behaviors and purposes for communicating (Wetherby & Prizant, 1989). Parents, therefore, need to have an active role in the communication assessment (Marcus & Stone, 1993). This includes working closely with the evaluator toward accomplishing a variety of goals such as: developing an accurate picture of child’s communication ability, identifying strategies for simplifying and modifying linguistic and social-communicative behaviors that increase the child’s responsiveness, identifying regularly occurring routines within the home, and identifying the types and amount of information and or training needed by caregivers to enhance communication (Prizant & Wetherby, 1993).