Comparing cross-situational word learning, retention, and generalisation in children with autism and typical development

Hartley, Calum and Bird, Laura and Monaghan, Padraic (2020) Comparing cross-situational word learning, retention, and generalisation in children with autism and typical development. Cognition, 200: 104265. ISSN 0010-0277

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Word learning is complicated by referential ambiguity – there are often multiple potential targets for a newly-heard word. While typically developing (TD) children can accurately infer word meanings from cross-situational statistics, specific difficulties tracking word-object co-occurrences may contribute to language impairments in autism spectrum disorder (ASD). Here, we investigate cross-situational word learning as an integrated system including mapping, retention, and generalisation in both typical development and autism. In Study 1, children with ASD were as accurate at disambiguating the meanings of novel words from statistical correspondences as TD controls matched on receptive vocabulary. In Study 2, both populations spontaneously utilised social and non-social attentional cues to facilitate and accelerate their mapping of word-referent relationships. Across Studies 1 and 2, both groups retrieved and generalised word-referent representations with impressive and comparable accuracy. Although children with ASD performed very similarly to TD children on measures of learning accuracy, they were significantly slower to identify correct referents under both cued and non-cued learning conditions. These findings indicate that mechanisms supporting cross-situational word learning, and the relationships between them, are not qualitatively atypical in language-delayed children with ASD. However, the increased time required to generate correct responses suggests that these mechanisms may be less efficient, potentially impacting learning in natural environments where visual and auditory stimuli are presented rapidly. Our data support claims that word learning in the longer term is driven by the gradual accumulation of word-object associations over multiple learning instances and could potentially inform the development of interventions designed to scaffold word learning.

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Journal Article
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?? linguistics and languagecognitive neuroscienceexperimental and cognitive psychologylanguage and linguistics ??
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05 Mar 2020 15:30
Last Modified:
03 Jan 2024 00:25