How children with autism extend new words

Karla K. McGregor, Allison Bean

Research output: Contribution to journalArticle

13 Scopus citations


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 highfunctioning 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 socialcommunicative 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.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Pages (from-to)70-83
Number of pages14
JournalJournal of Speech, Language, and Hearing Research
Issue number1
StatePublished - Feb 1 2012


  • Autism spectrum disorders
  • Learning
  • Vocabulary

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • Language and Linguistics
  • Linguistics and Language
  • Speech and Hearing

Fingerprint Dive into the research topics of 'How children with autism extend new words'. Together they form a unique fingerprint.

  • Cite this