Article  |   February 2012
How Children With Autism Extend New Words
Author Affiliations & Notes
  • Karla K. McGregor
    The University of Iowa, Iowa City
  • Allison Bean
    The Ohio State University, Columbus
  • Correspondence to Karla K. McGregor: karla-mcgregor@uiowa.edu
  • Editor: Janna Oetting
    Editor: Janna Oetting×
  • Associate Editor: Elizabeth Crais
    Associate Editor: Elizabeth Crais×
Article Information
Development / Special Populations / Autism Spectrum / Language Disorders / Social Communication & Pragmatics Disorders / Attention, Memory & Executive Functions / Language
Article   |   February 2012
How Children With Autism Extend New Words
Journal of Speech, Language, and Hearing Research, February 2012, Vol. 55, 70-83. doi:10.1044/1092-4388(2011/11-0024)
History: Received January 25, 2011 , Accepted June 28, 2011
Journal of Speech, Language, and Hearing Research, February 2012, Vol. 55, 70-83. doi:10.1044/1092-4388(2011/11-0024)
History: Received January 25, 2011; Accepted June 28, 2011
Web of Science® Times Cited: 2

Purpose: How do children with autism spectrum disorders (ASD) extend a noun to the category of objects it labels? Given their tendency to perceive locally, their extensions might be too narrow. Given their social-communicative deficits and a context in which the knowledge of a social-communicative partner promotes narrow extensions, their extensions might be too broad.

Method: We tested these predictions by comparing 25 high-functioning school-aged children with ASD to 29 age-matched peers with typical development (TD) in a task that required extraction of commonalities of object referents and use of social-communicative context to support the category inference.

Results: The children with ASD readily extended a given noun to multiple exemplars, thereby demonstrating tacit knowledge that words label categories and the ability to override local perceptual biases they might have. However, unlike their peers with TD, those who had concomitant weaknesses in semantic and syntactic language ability formed broad categories when their social partner’s behavior suggested narrow categories.

Conclusions: Some, but not all, people with ASD fail to use social context to support inferences about word extension. The direction of any causal relationship between failure to use social contextual cues and language deficits awaits determination.

Acknowledgments
The first author gratefully acknowledges the support of National Institute of Deafness and Other Communication Disorders Grant 2 R01 DC003698 together with an augmentation award from Autism Speaks. Interactive Autism Network (IAN; www.IANproject.org) provided assistance with recruitment of participants. Fei Xu provided advice on the protocol, Amanda Berns and Nichole Eden provided administrative support, and Ashley Farris-Trimble provided useful feedback on a draft version of this article. Some of the data in this article were presented in June 2009 at the Symposium for Research in Childhood Language Disorders, Madison, WI. Portions of this article were written while the first author was a fellow in residence at the Obermann Center at The University of Iowa.
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