Children with autism illuminate the role of social intention in word learning

Child Dev. 2007 Jul-Aug;78(4):1265-87. doi: 10.1111/j.1467-8624.2007.01065.x.


To what extent do children with autism (AD) versus typically developing children (TD) rely on attentional and intentional cues to learn words? Four experiments compared 17 AD children (M age=5.08 years) with 17 language- and 17 mental-age-matched TD children (M ages=2.57 and 3.12 years, respectively) on nonverbal enactment and word-learning tasks. Results revealed variability in all groups, but particularly within the AD group. Performance on intention tasks was the most powerful predictor of vocabulary in the AD group but not in the TD groups. These findings suggest that word learning cannot be explained exclusively by either attentional or intentional processes, and they provide evidence of a special role for intentional understanding in the vocabulary development of AD children.

Publication types

  • Research Support, N.I.H., Extramural
  • Research Support, U.S. Gov't, Non-P.H.S.

MeSH terms

  • Attention*
  • Autistic Disorder / psychology*
  • Child
  • Child, Preschool
  • Comprehension
  • Cues
  • Female
  • Humans
  • Imitative Behavior
  • Infant
  • Intention*
  • Language Development Disorders / psychology*
  • Male
  • Nonverbal Communication*
  • Personal Construct Theory
  • Problem Solving
  • Psychomotor Performance
  • Social Behavior*
  • Verbal Learning*
  • Vocabulary