Evidence against poor semantic encoding in individuals with autism

Autism. 2007 May;11(3):241-54. doi: 10.1177/1362361307076860.


This article tests the hypothesis that individuals with autism poorly encode verbal information to the semantic level of processing, instead paying greater attention to phonological attributes. Participants undertook a novel explicit verbal recall task. Twenty children with autism were compared with 20 matched typically developing children. On each trial, 20 words were presented individually on a computer screen. Half of the items were related through having either a common semantic theme, or a common phonological feature. Following a filler task, the participants were presented with a cue and asked to recall items consistent with the cue. No differences between the autism and comparison groups were found in either the semantic or the phonological condition. A follow-up comparison revealed that the participants with autism showed comparable levels of recall to an additional group of children matched in chronological age. The findings do not support the idea of a developmental delay in semantic encoding in children with autism.

MeSH terms

  • Autistic Disorder / epidemiology
  • Autistic Disorder / physiopathology*
  • Brain / physiopathology*
  • Child
  • Female
  • Humans
  • Language Development Disorders / diagnosis
  • Language Development Disorders / epidemiology
  • Male
  • Phonetics
  • Semantics*
  • Severity of Illness Index
  • Speech Perception*