Access to language, social cognition, and lexical development in autism
This chapter first reviews the evidence about atypical access to language in children with autism. It then examines some core aspects of their deficits in mental state attribution, communication, and language acquisition. Finally, it presents two new studies that compare word learning in children with autism with that of typically developing children. The first set of studies examined whether children with autism rely on word learning constraints based on mutual exclusivity and object shape. The second set focused on how children perform on object naming tasks and tasks that test their ability to learn the names for novel artefacts. For example, children were told stories in which simple objects were presented as the product of a deliberate action or an accidental event and then they were asked to say what the objects were. The responses of typically developing children varied as a function of story type, whereas those of children with autism did not. It is argued that the difficulties shown by children with autism in considering crucial aspects of functional cues when naming novel objects provides support for models that emphasize the role of social cognition in word meaning acquisition.
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