Acquisition of Verb Meaning From Syntactic Distribution in Preschoolers With Autism Spectrum Disorder Purpose Our goal was to investigate whether preschool children with autism spectrum disorder (ASD) can begin to learn new word meanings by attending to the linguistic contexts in which they occur, even in the absence of visual or social context. We focused on verbs because of their importance for subsequent ... Research Article
Research Article  |   August 14, 2018
Acquisition of Verb Meaning From Syntactic Distribution in Preschoolers With Autism Spectrum Disorder
 
Author Affiliations & Notes
  • Sabrina Horvath
    Boston University, MA
  • Elizabeth McDermott
    Boston University, MA
  • Kathleen Reilly
    Tufts Medical Center, Floating Hospital for Children, Boston, MA
  • Sudha Arunachalam
    Boston University, MA
  • Disclosure: The authors have declared that no competing interests existed at the time of publication.
    Disclosure: The authors have declared that no competing interests existed at the time of publication. ×
  • Correspondence to Sabrina Horvath: shorvath@bu.edu
  • Editor-in-Chief: Shelley Gray
    Editor-in-Chief: Shelley Gray×
  • Editor: Mary Alt
    Editor: Mary Alt×
  • Publisher Note: This article is part of the Special Issue: How Statistical Learning Relates to Speech-Language Pathology.
    Publisher Note: This article is part of the Special Issue: How Statistical Learning Relates to Speech-Language Pathology.×
Article Information
Development / Special Populations / Autism Spectrum / Attention, Memory & Executive Functions / Special Issue: How Statistical Learning Relates to Speech-Language Pathology / Research Articles
Research Article   |   August 14, 2018
Acquisition of Verb Meaning From Syntactic Distribution in Preschoolers With Autism Spectrum Disorder
Language, Speech, and Hearing Services in Schools, August 2018, Vol. 49, 668-680. doi:10.1044/2018_LSHSS-STLT1-17-0126
History: Received November 17, 2017 , Revised January 19, 2018 , Accepted March 11, 2018
 
Language, Speech, and Hearing Services in Schools, August 2018, Vol. 49, 668-680. doi:10.1044/2018_LSHSS-STLT1-17-0126
History: Received November 17, 2017; Revised January 19, 2018; Accepted March 11, 2018

Purpose Our goal was to investigate whether preschool children with autism spectrum disorder (ASD) can begin to learn new word meanings by attending to the linguistic contexts in which they occur, even in the absence of visual or social context. We focused on verbs because of their importance for subsequent language development.

Method Thirty-two children with ASD, ages 2;1–4;5 (years;months), participated in a verb-learning task. In a between-subjects design, they were randomly assigned to hear novel verbs in either transitive or intransitive syntactic frames while watching an unrelated silent animation or playing quietly with a toy. In an eye-tracking test, they viewed two video scenes, one depicting a causative event (e.g., boy spinning girl) and the other depicting synchronous events (e.g., boy and girl waving). They were prompted to find the referents of the novel verbs, and their eye gaze was measured.

Results Like typically developing children in prior work, children with ASD who had heard the verbs in transitive syntactic frames preferred to look to the causative scene as compared to children who had heard intransitive frames.

Conclusions This finding replicates and extends prior work on verb learning in children with ASD by demonstrating that they can attend to a novel verb's syntactic distribution absent relevant visual or social context, and they can use this information to assign the novel verb an appropriate meaning. We discuss points for future research, including examining individual differences that may impact success and contrasting social and nonsocial word-learning tasks directly.

Acknowledgments
Funding for this study was provided by Autism Speaks Grant 8160, National Institutes of Health Grant K01DC13306, and a Boston University Dudley Allen Sargent Research Fund award, all to the final author. The content is solely the responsibility of the authors and does not necessarily represent the official views of the National Institutes of Health.
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