Journal of Child Language

Articles

Failure to learn from feedback underlies word learning difficulties in toddlers at risk for autism

R. BEDFORDa1 c1, T. GLIGAa2, K. FRAMEa3, K. HUDRYa4, S. CHANDLERa5, M. H. JOHNSONa6, T. CHARMANa7 and THE BASIS TEAM *

a1 Centre for Research in Autism and Education, Department of Psychology and Human Development, Institute of Education, London

a2 Centre for Brain and Cognitive Development, Birkbeck, University of London

a3 Centre for Research in Autism and Education, Department of Psychology and Human Development, Institute of Education, London

a4 Olga Tennison Autism Research Centre, School of Psychological Science, La Trobe University, Australia

a5 Centre for Research in Autism and Education, Department of Psychology and Human Development, Institute of Education, London

a6 Centre for Brain and Cognitive Development, Birkbeck, University of London

a7 Centre for Research in Autism and Education, Department of Psychology and Human Development, Institute of Education, London

ABSTRACT

Children's assignment of novel words to nameless objects, over objects whose names they know (mutual exclusivity; ME) has been described as a driving force for vocabulary acquisition. Despite their ability to use ME to fast-map words (Preissler & Carey, 2005), children with autism show impaired language acquisition. We aimed to address this puzzle by building on studies showing that correct referent selection using ME does not lead to word learning unless ostensive feedback is provided on the child's object choice (Horst & Samuelson, 2008). We found that although toddlers aged 2;0 at risk for autism can use ME to choose the correct referent of a word, they do not benefit from feedback for long-term retention of the word–object mapping. Further, their difficulty using feedback is associated with their smaller receptive vocabularies. We propose that difficulties learning from social feedback, not lexical principles, limits vocabulary building during development in children at risk for autism.

(Received August 07 2011)

(Revised December 22 2011)

(Accepted February 16 2012)

Correspondence:

c1 Address for correspondence: Rachael Bedford, Centre for Research in Autism and Education, Department of Psychology and Human Development, Institute of Education, 25 Woburn Square, London, WC1H 0AA, London, UK. e-mail: r.bedford@ioe.ac.uk

Footnotes

[*]  The BASIS Team (alphabetically): Simon Baron-Cohen, Patrick Bolton, Mayada Elsabbagh, Janice Fernandes, Holly Garwood, Greg Pasco, Leslie Tucker, Agnes Volein. We are very grateful for the enormous contributions BASIS families have made towards this study. We thank Natasa Ganea for helping with data analysis. The research is supported by a Bloomsbury Colleges Scholarship to R. Bedford, the BASIS funding consortium led by Autistica (www.basisnetwork.org), Autism Speaks (PI M. H. Johnson, Grant number 1292) and a UK Medical Research Council Programme Grant (G0701484) to M. H. Johnson. The Centre for Research in Autism and Education is supported by The Clothworkers' Foundation and Pears Foundation. T. Charman and M. Elsabbagh are supported by the COST Action BM1004.

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