Language Acquisition?

Yesterday I wrote about some of the problems inherent in asking children to read out loud.  You can read that post ‘here‘.  The comments have been uniformly terrific, extremely informative, and very helpful.  Ischemgeek wrote several comments that I’ve actually printed out and even copied and pasted into emails to a few teachers I know.  She wrote a terrific explanation and series of suggestions in answer to a question I posed asking for her thoughts regarding handwriting.  My question to her was slightly off topic from the original post, but if you read the comments you’ll see how the conversation evolved.

Another comment, from bjforshaw, reminded me of how when Emma was a baby she seemed to acquire two or even three word phrases (“chase me”, “go out”, “all done”, “play catch” “I donwannta”)  as opposed to individual words.  Bjforshaw wrote, “I dislike reading aloud because it is so different from the way I normally read and this makes it feel uncomfortable. My usual reading speed is fast, much faster than my speech, and I scan phrases, groups of words, even whole sentences. In contrast when I read aloud I have to plod along one word at a time.

When I read his comment I had one of those “light bulb” moments.  You know, where you think – wow!  This reminds me of this other, seemingly unrelated thing, I wonder if there’s a relationship?  So I went to the internet to see if I could find any articles on the topic of language acquisition, but haven’t found any dealing with babies learning whole phrases and chunks of words at a time.  Not only have I not been able to find any articles written on this topic, but I cannot find many articles written about language acquisition and autism, specifically, that aren’t more than ten years old, which I find baffling. If anyone has relevant links, please send.

I have no idea if, for some, language learning is similar to the way bjforshaw describes his ability to read, but I’m curious now.  Could it be similar?  Has anyone heard or read anything about this?  For those of you who read in chunks and not the individual word, do you know or remember whether you also learned to speak this way?  In other words instead of learning one word and then building upon that word, did you learn a phrase or several words together?  Could this also then be related to scripts? I’m thinking out loud here, but I’m wondering if scripts are meaningful because they are learned chunks of language that come to represent more than the literal interpretation given by those listening. Do the scripts carry more (hidden) meanings to the person saying them?

Thanks again to all who have commented, and to those who intend to, thank you in advance.

Em types for an audience in Tampa, April 2013Em types with Pascal

44 responses to “Language Acquisition?

  1. Please check out our website:, and look for my column series from the Autism Asperger’s Digest, “Finding the Words: to tell the whole story.” It outlines the entire progression that our kids use, from ‘gestalts’ (the long utterances of stories), through mitigation (breaking them down; mixing and matching them) to isolating single words and building up unique utterances. This process was first described by Barry Prizant and others, and our book: Natural Language Acquisition on the Autism Spectrum: The Journey from Echolalia to Self-Generated Language includes a decade of language sampling, and is now available! We will be presenting this information at the American Speech-Language-Hearing Association Convention in Chicago on November 14, 2013. Gestalt language processing isn’t unique to autism, but the process takes longer for kids with motor challenges, and so the remnant echolalia is more obvious — and certainly calls attention to itself!

    • Terrific! Thank you so much. I will read.

      • I actually have this book and have been to the Communication Development Center’s website for resources regarding gestalt language processing. Both have been a great resource in understanding my son’s speech. It was like a bell going off in my head! Finally something that makes sense.

        • I am so glad, Tammy! Can’t wait for everyone to read the articles — and the book. And, for the SLPs out there, to come to our 2-hour seminar at ASHA this November. Then we can really share stories! By the way, MOM-NOS shared about Bud’s experiences many years ago. Her blog is very informative — not to mention entertaining!

          • Marge, I just wanted to follow up on this thread as since this post was written and after reading your comment, I did indeed purchase your book and am finding it absolutely fascinating! Every few pages I find myself thinking – Why is this not all common knowledge? How is it that every speech therapist in the world is not aware of this concept? How can it be that this so beautifully describes so many of our kids and yet this is the FIRST I’ve heard of any of it? Of course I am NOT a speech therapist, nor am I even in any field remotely connected, and yet…
            So I just want to thank you for your work and I will be quoting from your book in the coming weeks. There is too much in it that others, I’m sure, will find beneficial.

  2. I studied Linguistics and language acquisition, but I can’t remember a single time we ever spoke about Autism or special needs other than things like aphasia.
    I know for myself, when it came to writing, I tried writing from right to left first and I’m left-handed. My son does a similar thing and also tries to read from right to left.

    I know that I am better at memorizing how to spell a word than I ever was at sounding things out. I see in “photographs” (that’s the best explanation) – I learn visually and I when I need to remember something, I can recall the page the item I need is on and mentally scan the “page” (in my head from memory) to find my answer. So I can’t remember if I learned in chunks, but I do know I learned by rote. For example, with Dr Seuss books, I knew what text was on each page by memory, not necessarily because I was *reading* each word.

    In my day job now I work as a web editor (and SEO and all that), and errors in grammar or punctuation just JUMP out at me on the page. I don’t actually have to read the whole text, my eyes just spot the errors immediately.
    I also read quickly and have a hard time with breath control when reading out loud.

    Not sure if this helps, but it’s how *my* Autistic brain processes written language. (I speak three languages and tend to be able to decipher related languages very easily). And goes to show that no matter which process we use to get there, we can still be amazing writers and readers 🙂

    I just wrote a post today on my blog about the benefits of my Autistic brain 🙂

    • Blogs must be painful to read due to the numbers of typos, grammatical errors etc. that inevitably occur as the result of not having time to go over everything as much as one often would like… or am I just speaking for myself here? 😉
      PS Will go look at your post.

      • Facebook is much, much worse. I made all my friends laugh when I corrected the grammar on an image saying “Thanks to the teachers that instilled in me such a love of English that I’m perpetually mortified when reading the Internet”. 😛

      • Yes, the Internet can be painful in general in terms of spelling and grammar, but I’ve learned over time to not let it get to me so much. I stop myself from correcting people constantly (it’s just not nice) and I know I make mistakes now and then.

  3. This is more pertinent to yesterday’s conversation but relates to visual perception and accessing the world around you. There’s a thing called Irlen syndrome or Scoptopic sensitivity syndrome

    Helen Irlen was working with dyslexic kids when a KID noticed that he could read text when a colored gel was on top of it (as in a plastic book report cover). Without the gel the words on the page swam around and the rivers of white between words were in the foreground with the words scrambling together in the background making reading near impossible. They explored and learned that visual perception of the world can be like a fun house mirror show and with colored lense glasses this can be improved. Some autistic ppl are using the Irlen system with good results (sorry don’t have reference hand atm – will look for one). This is also known as Scotopic Sensitivity Syndrome. It affects writing too and doing math b/c numbers in columns and writing on lines is tough when the written text is swimming all around in your visual field. There’s an Irlen Institute:

    The little bit of work I did with this with kids in middle school showed that reading under fluorescent lighting was toughest for kids and under daylight the best, but using the gel overlays was tough b/c kids lost them and felt different using them. One kid went for the glasses but it didn’t work out so well and so the school system chucked the whole idea /rolleyes. For many ppl it’s very helpful but you have to find the right color glasses and that might be a completely different color from the gel that works best.

    Anyway it strikes me that if the whole visual perceptual field is distorted there might be similar in hearing and hence language. I know the kids I worked with would hear noises no one else heard and not hear noises everyone else heard – like fun house mirror in the ears. Hearing tests would show normal hearing (sure if you slap a pair of earphones on a kid and shut out the rest of the world’s noises you’ll get one kind of result – sheez) but of course you all know this – the actual experience of hearing is different with the world and all its hubub.

    Is there such a thing as stutter in the hearing system? A sort of Irlen syndrome of the ears perhaps?

  4. Yes yes yes! I read words in groups as well when I read in my head. I think all fast readers read this way? It’s actually taught as a speed reading technique. 🙂 My husband says watching me read is creepy because my eyes move so rapidly back and forth across the page.

    From what I read about language acquisition when researching echolalia, learning rote phrases is common at a certain stage. We then learn to substitute words within the phrases and eventually construct our own phrases. I think it’s more noticeable when autistic people (or other late speakers) rely on phrases to communicate because it’s happening for a longer period of time or at an unexpected time developmentally.

  5. My parents say they think I was reading before I could speak, so I don’t remember a time when I couldn’t read. I could read long before I could easily carry on a back-and-forth conversation.

    I remember that a lot of my spoken language scripts were stolen from book passages I’ve read – not precisely echolalia, I think, but kind of the text-to-voice equivalent. I remember in elementary school parroting witticisms characters I liked would say, sometimes without awareness of the context they were said in in hopes others would get what I was talking about – I might say something like “Mars is bright tonight” if I was feeling anxious that something might not go well, for example (referencing Harry Potter, where the centaurs are nervous because Mars being bright is a bad omen). I got pretty good at it, so that by the time I hit second grade, most people didn’t realize that’s what I was doing.

    It required less brainpower, and thus was a lot easier to get past my stutter, to use scripts than it did to think up conversation on my own.

    So, yeah, I definitely learned at least some of my language by snagging phrases and sentences at a time from different sources and later modifying them as the need arose. Given that my parents say I pretty much went straight from babbling to simple phrases and from simple phrases to full sentences, it suggests to me pretty strongly that I picked up most or all of my language that way.

    • I remember a little boy in Em’s pre-school who was reading, but didn’t speak as well as he read and when I commented on how great it was that he was reading at such a young age, they told me they didn’t “allow” him to because it wasn’t “age appropriate” and my heart just sank. It’s pretty much the way I feel reading yours and bjforshaws comments about math on yesterday’s post…

      • Reminds me of something my wife said. When her son started school *she* got criticized by his teacher because his reading was “too advanced”.

          • My dad actually did overestimate me. I was reading pretty advanced books for my age (had finished the kid’s section in our pretty huge library by the time I was 9, so moved on to YA and historical fiction). I can’t remember what book I was raving about at the time, but in response he gave me Jerzy Kozinski’s The Painted Bird, which had a pretty graphic scene in it – either a dead soldier or something to do with rape, I can’t remember because I had to stop reading. I told my dad I wasn’t ready for that yet. I was 11! 🙂

            • My folks had a hands-off approach to my reading – they’d let me go where I wanted with it, but would warn me if they thought I was about to read something I might not be ready for. Sometimes I held off, sometimes I didn’t. The two exceptions were Romance (those sections in Canada are basically soft-core porn geared for women) and Horror (horror fiction here leans more Saw than Carrie). I appreciate that approach in retrospect.

        • After I changed schools at the end of second grade, I would get punished in school if I worked ahead or got ahead of grade level.

          “If you have time to work ahead in math, you have time to practice more handwriting!” *eyeroll*

      • I don’t see the point in not letting kids who are advanced at reading to read at their level. I’ve had people explain it to me a lot of different ways, and any way you slice it, I can’t see reason in denying a kid the pleasure of doing something they’re good at – or worse, making them associate being good at something with getting punished for it.

        I mean, yes, weaknesses need extra help, but surely there’s a way to give extra help with weak areas without sacrificing strong areas entirely?

  6. I think that languages are learned in chunks, because a single word, unless it is the name of someone or something, is meaningless without connectors. Only when you learn to read and write do you learn that there are spaces between words.

    Please correct me if I’m wrong!


    • Actually most children do not acquire their native language in chunks. In fact most children are “noun heavy” at first. Pointing to things they want and learning the name for it first.
      This is also how literacy is typically taught, which was one of the reasons traditional literacy methods did not work for Emma.
      By the way, how’s your arm?

  7. I’m so glad I inspired a “light bulb” moment for you. 😀

    But I can’t take all the credit. It’s incredible how much inspiration builds from the steady accumulation of minutiae from all the varied people who comment here: one person mentions something, which triggers a thought from another, until we’re awash in ideas and information. I can only thank the people who commented before me for my own “light bulb” and, of course, *you* for starting this off with your post in the first place.

  8. That’s why I said except for names (all nouns) because other words, conjunctions, verbs, adjectives, prepositions only make sense when attached to a noun, and therefore must be learned in chunks. In the original Greek translation of the Bible, there were no spaces between words, so a phrase like godisnowhere could be either god-is-now-here or god-is-nowhere. This made interpretation very difficult!


  9. Thanks so much for the topic! it happens to be the one I have lived for the past 20 years, and have included in several articles, and now a book (Natural Language Acquisition on the Autism Spectrum: The Journey from Echolalia to Self-Generated Language by Marge Blanc, M.A., CCC-SLP, Speech-Language Pathologist). Here’s the short course:

    Back in the 70’s and 80’s, when grammar development was the hot topic in Communicative Disorders, language and linguistic researchers described half of all kids acquiring language as “word babies.” These are the more left-brained kids who begin the language development process with single words. They tend to be girls. But the other half of all kids, the more right-brained ones, and generally boys, initially perceive sound in larger chunks, and were called “intonation babies” and “gestalt language processors.” Each group initially perceives sound as a “unit” the size of their particular perceptual bias (Ann Peters, The Units of Language Acquisition, 1973; electronic version, 2002). The latter group generally includes boys, who are often seen as behind the girls, and are often the kids who go to speech therapy. The reason they are ‘behind’ is that the gestalt style of language acquisition takes longer. Gestalt processors first need to break down their long gestalts into smaller chunks (phrases), practice recombining them in semi-unique ways, and then break them down further before they can build completely original sentences from scratch. Temple Grandin described the process of her own mitigation and recombining on the “hard drive” of her brain:: “…as I get more and more phrases on the hard drive, I can recombine them in different ways, and then it’s less tape recorder-like…” (Wisconsin Public Radio, 2005)

    Back in the 70’s and 80’s, there were very few kids identified as autistic, but even so, Barry Prizant, Amy Wetherby, and others recognized that these kids were like neurotypical gestalt processors in the way they acquired language — but were delayed. Their “gestalts” stuck with them longer, and called more attention to themselves. And the older they got, the harder it was to go through the mitigation process without help. Unlike neurotypical kids whose process usually passed under the radar, the gestalts of the autistic kids were very obvious. And back in those days, the gestalts sounded very different from how ‘movie talk’ sounds today. Kids had to rely on the language around them, for better or worse, and in a low-tech era, language input was only as rich as the physical surroundings.

    Our kids today have media-rich language sources, which makes mitigation easier in some ways (more examples of the same phrases that can be extracted) — but harder in others because the language sounds more like Walt Disney than a home or classroom environment. The more we recognize the process of language acquisition for these kids, however, the more we can expose them to language that is more real-life, and lends itself to mitigation. When we use language like, “Let’s go to the store,” “Let’s go get something to eat,” and “Let’s go to the park,” the easier it is for our gestalt kids to understand and extract, “Let’s go…” from the longer sentences —and begin to mix-and-match their own semi-unique sentences.

    Well, there’s much more to this story, of course, but this gives you an idea!

    As always, thank you for the rich discussion and wonderful forum!

  10. It would be an interesting research topic! I think ICI has done some research on patterns of language of autistics vs. neurotypical but I dont remember any studies like the one you described! Cool thought! 🙂

  11. Yes, this was first discussed in depth in the late 80s by Amy Wetherby and Barry Prizant. I was in grad school (speech-lang pathology) when I first got to know them at national conferences and when they came to UTD to meet w/ my mentor with whom I was doing research as part of my PhD in Human Development and Communication Sciences. They postulated then researched exactly what you describe. Indeed, children w/ autism often learn language in “chunks” so are termed gestalt language learners. Research went on to show children were indeed using echolalic chunks of language to communicate rather than merely empty echoes as previously presumed. So, basically, you nailed it and the answer to your wonderings about scripts is that yes, they absolutely are often used to communicate! 🙂

    • Thanks so much! It’s incredible that every speech therapist dealing with Autistic kids are not aware of this and using it to help them…

      • Absolutely — and so much more! Like everything that has to do with individuals and individual constellations of inputting, processing, and outputting, there are undoubtedly many answers for each child, depending on the stage of development, and the situation. Each of these answers would have tentacles into the depths of each cerebral hemisphere (and the cross-over in between and the form of thought for inputting, pondering, and responding).

        If the original question (about New Zealand for instance) gets translated into the visual pictures of the right brain, and this triggers associations there, are there even words that go with that visual thinking? And even if there was something verbal to pull something from that mental movie, isolating them means freeze-framing the entire story. And if there’s nothing verbal there, then the next mental journey might be cross-referencing with a mental photo album like Temple Grandin describes, and flipping through pictures until something seems salient) — and *then* retrieving from those depths.

        By then, the timing of the original query has been disrupted, of course, but even a timely mental attempt presumes successful auditory processing of the original question! And even if the language-development level of the child includes the grammar of the question (“Have you ever been…” is pretty advanced grammar), does he or she have adequate short term memory for this newly-minted grammar whose acoustic trace vanishes in a nanosecond.

        Then there’s the type of response required: if the response type has a visual referent (like the name of something), there’s hope for a young child. But if it so elusive as ‘yes’ which even under the best of developmental conditions isn’t easy to use well, the chances of success are more limited. And this is just the cognitive constellation for a developing brain!

        Of course, for our kids we need to add to this complexity the motor pieces of praxis, like initiating and getting ‘stuck’ — and it’s a wonder our kids don’t give up completely! The human brain and body is amazing — but our kids’ tenacity and spirit is the real miracle here!

        • By the way, this reply is a bit out of place, and belongs about 6 comments later! I was replying to Ariane’s question as to whether there’s a relationship between kids’ inaccurate and seemingly-unrelated responses to questions and gestalt language development! In a nutshell, the answer is, “Yes — and so much more!”

          • I figured that out! I can’t remove it and reposition it as it will then show my name as being the commenter. But I think people will understand that you were responding to my question lower down on this thread.

  12. This was first discussed in depth in the late 80s by Amy Wetherby and Barry Prizant. I was in grad school (speech-lang pathology) when I first got to know them at national conferences and when they came to UTD to meet w/ my mentor with whom I was doing research as part of my PhD in Human Development and Communication Sciences. They postulated then researched exactly what you describe. Indeed, children w/ autism often learn language in “chunks” so are termed gestalt language learners. Research went on to show children were indeed using echolalic chunks of language to communicate rather than merely empty echoes as previously presumed. So, basically, you nailed it and the answer to your wonderings about scripts is that yes, they absolutely are often used to communicate! 🙂

  13. When our daughter was 18 months old we didn’t realize how far behind on talking she was because she sang so much. Her speech therapist gave the opinion that when she was singing ‘Roary the Racing Car’, or the like, it counted as one ‘word’ because she couldn’t use the individual words by themselves.

  14. Yes, yes, yes!!! I’m freaking out. I cannot wait to read this book! I’m so happy to have found this blog. My son did a lot of scripting and is a superb mimic. Then he cut & pasted & substituted. Now he’s five. He generates tons of original speech, and sometimes I look at my husband & say, “Did he hear that somewhere?” And more and more, the answer is no. We got so used to wondering where he would pick up phrases & attributing his more brilliant statements to echolalia. But now it is mostly his own speech. We found limiting TV was really helpful. TV seemed to breed a lot of out of context (or seemingly so) echolalia. On the other hand, he learned a lot of words from it, and his ability to relate to other kids is often centered on sharing views & facts about fave shows. He is often having back & forth conversations, or at least kind of….there’s still so much repetition in there but he’s on topic. Intonation is often very much the same if he happens to repeat a phrase. He is also very musical, and he learns the exact way the sentence goes up & down. His nana always says he is the best elocutionist, yet he still has trouble with reciprocal conversations, word recall with no visual supports (“name an animal” requires some time once he exhausts the obvious ones, and he’ll punt with “jack o’ lantern”–maybe that was an answer from his school day?), and he does not catch directions on the first go round. So fascinating. He requires constant help in his mainstream kinder class, yet when we drag ourselves through the homework, I can see he has no trouble with the material. He’s obviously reading. If i ask what one word is, he will recite the whole page until I cover all but that word. He memorizes stuff, of course. But we also see him scan the bookmarks bar for G to find games. So he is getting phonics. I always say he learned language in huge bites & then digested it & broke it down into chunks & remixed it. I too have been looking for that theory in writing!! So glad to have found your excellent blog. I love your perspective!

  15. Thanks, Julie! I can’t wait for you to read the book too! Even before you do, though, there are several relevant articles on our website that you will enjoy. One is a long article series, Finding the words: to tell the whole story. It outlines the language development process for kids who begin it with large language chunks, gradually breaking them down as your boy has done! The process is actually one type of ‘typical language development,’ but for most of the kids (usually boys) who use it, the early stages go under the radar. Most little kids who use echolalia are too young for parents to understand their long story lines, and their speech gets chalked up to ‘babbling.’ Anyway, please check out the Communication Development Center website:, where you can read about the book, too. Oh, and your comment about the language that comes from media is right on target. In the ‘old days,’ kids didn’t have the benefit of ‘rewind,’ but they also didn’t have the dramatic language of ‘To infinity and beyond!’ types of gestalts to try to break down. Our best strategy is to give our little gestalt-processing kids well-chosen language chunks of our own: “Let’s go + to the park,” “Let’s go + get your paint,” and “Let’s go + find some blue.” These are much easier to break down and communicate with!

  16. I read one article so far. It is just great to get that hunch I had in writing.

    Regarding “out of context” repetitions by association, an early incident with our son has stuck with me. We were going to a local small plane airport to watch planes take off and land at this observation area. And I was talking to a friend about going. As we passed a park, I said “Waterman,” into my phone. I was giving directions to my friend, and that was the street she needed to look for. My son repeated it from the back seat. Every time we passed that park after that, he said Waterman. I knew the association, and I thought it was remarkable. He was two. He has always had an uncanny sense of direction, watching the streets from his car seat. He now tells me when I’ve missed a turn. So he knew exactly where we were when I had said Waterman, and he said it again whenever we passed that exact spot.

    On a separate note, we were out today at this Fall Harvest Festival, and although with me, he now does a lot of original speech and back and forth conversations (and I still am just blown away by that), he verbatim repeated so many things other kids around him said. He just automatically recited them aloud, without necessarily looking at the speaker. And it’s mostly kids. I think he is studying the language of kids.

    On this tractor wagon ride, he repeated a lot of statements another boy made, and some funny sounds that the other boy made. It seemed to me that he was actually trying to bond with this kid. Of course to that kid, the behavior is just odd, but with his friends my son doesn’t do that repetition. Just interesting kids he hears in public.

    He did it recently when we were out at a hamburger place. There was a whole table of interesting, older boys nearby, and my son kept parroting their words and sometimes peppering their words into stuff he was saying to us. And he was giggling like mad. He clearly thought these were the cool kids at the next table, and it seemed like he was trying to ingratiate himself.

    I remember when he was very little, at preschool, he would imitate the sounds of other kids when they cried. He was a superb mimic, and it actually sounded like he was mocking them, and it was a bit embarrassing. But in retrospect I think any emotionally loaded sounds got his attention and warranted repetition.

    I say this because just yesterday, my husband said, “There’s a dead mouse in the backyard!” And I responded, “Ew!” And my son cracked up. He really thought that was a riot, and he’s repeated that conversation and giggled a lot. It is unnerving, since it sounds like he’s laughing about this little creature’s demise, so it sounds a bit psychopathic. But putting that aside, I think he’s just laughing because my reaction was surprise, and the whole event was so unexpected. So it’s like any hilarious thing that might happen. We like to replay those things, and it’s so pleasurable to continue to be tickled by them.

    So I just try to provide context and additional language around that. Sometimes he will say, “There’s a dead mouse in the back yard. Now you say, Ew!” And I act it out with him. Then I might say, “Remember when that happened? That was so surprising.” Then the next time, “You really thought that was funny. I love it when things make me laugh for a long time.” Or we can add dialogue to the exchange. Or I can tell him that actually, it was a baby possum. (Sad but true.) He would prefer to just repeat the original dialogue six times in a row, of course.

    So that’s a bit macabre, but I just figure any opportunity to relate is good.

  17. There’s actually been a recent burst of research on language acquisition in autism! The problem is, it’s based on the methods and assumptions of language acquisition research in typically developing kids. So nothing yet about learning language in chunks, as far as I know. I have some ideas for how one could study language learning by chunks, so maybe I’ll be working on that in the next few years. Or maybe someone else will beat me to it. 😉

    Here are some of the studies, if you feel like checking them out (“fast mapping” is a synonym for fast learning of words for objects):
    * Luyster (2007). Word learning in children with ASDs. PhD thesis.
    * Luyster & Lord (2009). Word learning in children with ASD. Developmental Psychology 45:6, pp. 1774-86.
    * McDuffie, Yoder & Stone (2006). Fast mapping in young children with ASD. First Language 26:4, pp. 421-38.
    * Barcus (2011). Vocabulary acquisition through fast mapping in children with autism. PhD thesis.
    * Norbury, Griffiths & Nation (2010). Sound before meaning: word learning in autistic disorders. Neuropsychologica 48, pp. 4012-19.
    * Swenson et al (2007). Processes of language acquisition in children with autism: evidence from preferential looking. Child Development 78:2, pp. 542-57.

    These papers ask somewhat more specific questions about how word learning in ASD compares to typical word learning:
    * Akechi et al (2013). Pointing cues facilitate word learning in children with ASD. Journal of Autism & Developmental Disorders 43:1, pp. 230-35.
    * Bani Hani, Gonzalez-Barrero, & Nadig (2012). Children’s referential understanding of novel words & parent labeling behaviors: similarities across children with & without ASDs. Journal of Child Language Dec. 2012.
    * Bedford et al (2013). Failure to learn from feedback underlies word learning difficulties in toddlers at risk for autism. Journal of Child Language 40:1, pp. 29-46.
    * McDuffie, Yoder & Stone (2006). Labels increase attention to novel objects in children with autism & comprehension-matched children with typical development. Autism 10:3, pp. 288-301.
    * Parish-Morris et al (2007). Children with autism illuminate the role of social intention in word learning. Child Development 78:4, pp. 1265-87.
    * Tek et al (2008). Do children with ASDs show a shape bias in word learning? Autism Research 1, pp. 208-22.
    * Venker et al (2013). Individual differences in the real-time comprehension of children with ASD. Autism Research.

    Many of these will be paywalled, but I was able to find full texts for at least some on Google Scholar without going through a university. Let me know if you need copies of any of these, or if you have any questions about what these researchers are doing and why.

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