Profiling variability and development of spoken discourse in mainstream adolescents

Competence in spoken discourse is an important consideration during assessment and intervention planning for adolescents with communication difficulties. Currently, a lack of age-appropriate protocols and reference data against which to interpret performance, are barriers when working with this population, particularly those that assess a range of genre and language features. Using a new assessment tool, the Curtin University Discourse Protocol-Adolescent (CUDP-A), this study aimed to collect and describe spoken discourse samples from a large group of adolescents (n = 160), aged 12 to 15 years, recruited to represent a mainstream academic cohort. For each participant, samples of recount (n = 3), expository (n = 3), persuasive (n = 3), and narrative (n = 2) discourse were described using theoretically supported measurements sensitive to micro-linguistic, micro-structural, macro-structural, and super-structural discourse features. Participants also completed a standardized assessment of oral language. Variability was found in micro-linguistic and micro-structural features, with stability seen in macro-structural and super-structural features. Few age- and gender-related differences were observed, while multiple significant correlations between spoken discourse and oral language variables were revealed across the sample. The CUDP-A was successful in eliciting spoken discourse across genres relevant to social and academic contexts, enabling an in-depth description of adolescent discourse. This tool, supported by the reference data, provides a new opportunity to assess spoken discourse skills in adolescents from clinical populations, e.g., acquired brain injury or developmental disorders. Further research is needed to examine factors influencing discourse ability, such as those that may be related to genre, or contextual factors related to the presence of communication partners, with novel tools such as the CUDP-A facilitating this.