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Young Children with ASD Use Lexical and Referential Information During On-line Sentence Processing

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posted on 2022-03-29, 22:54 authored by Edith BavinEdith Bavin, Evan Kidd, Luke PrendergastLuke Prendergast, Emma BakerEmma Baker
Research with adults and older children indicates that verb biases are strong influences on listeners' interpretations when processing sentences, but they can be overruled. In this paper, we ask two questions: (i) are children with Autism Spectrum Disorder (ASD) who are high functioning sensitive to verb biases like their same age typically developing peers?, and (ii) do young children with ASD and young children with typical development (TD) override strong verb biases to consider alternative interpretations of ambiguous sentences? Participants were aged 5-9 years (mean age 6.65 years): children with ASD who were high functioning and children with TD. In task 1, biasing and neutral verbs were included (e.g., eat cake versus move cake). In task 2, the focus was on whether the prepositional phrase occurring with an instrument biasing verb (e.g., 'Chop the tree with the axe') was interpreted as an instrument even if the named item was an implausible instrument (e.g., candle in 'Cut the cake with the candle'). Overall, the results showed similarities between groups but the ASD group was generally slower. In task 1, both groups looked at the named object faster in the biasing than the nonbiasing condition, and in the biasing condition the ASD group looked away from the target more quickly than the TD group. In task 2, both groups identified the target in the prepositional phrase. They were more likely to override the verb instrument bias and consider the alternative (modification) interpretation in the implausible condition (e.g., looking at the picture of a cake with a candle on it'). Our findings indicate that children of age 5 years and above can use context to override verb biases. Additionally, an important component of the sentence processing mechanism is largely intact for young children with ASD who are high functioning. Like children with TD, they draw on verb semantics and plausibility in integrating information. However, they are likely to be slower in processing the language they hear. Based on previous findings of associations between processing speed and cognitive functioning, the implication is that their understanding will be negatively affected, as will their academic outcomes.


The data on which this paper was based was collected with funds from an Australian grant (DP 1092668) awarded to ELB, EK, Cheryl Dissanayake, and Margot Prior. Additional funding was provided by a La Trobe University ARWU grant to ELB.


Publication Date



Frontiers in Psychology



Article Number



12p. (p. 1-12)


Frontiers Media



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© 2016 Bavin, Kidd, Prendergast and Baker. This is an open-access article distributed under the terms of the Creative Commons Attribution License (CC BY). The use, distribution or reproduction in other forums is permitted, provided the original author(s) or licensor are credited and that the original publication in this journal is cited, in accordance with accepted academic practice. No use, distribution or reproduction is permitted which does not comply with these terms.

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