All ETDs from UAB

Advisory Committee Chair

Fred J Biasini

Advisory Committee Members

Maria I Hopkins

David Schwebel

Jason Scofield

Scott Snyder

Document Type

Dissertation

Date of Award

2011

Degree Name by School

Doctor of Philosophy (PhD) College of Arts and Sciences

Abstract

Though established that language deficits comprise a core element of a definitive autism diagnosis, relatively less research has been conducted to understand the bases for impaired language abilities as compared to understanding the social deficits associated with the disorder. Children with an autism spectrum disorder (ASD) have impoverished joint attention (JA) abilities, evidenced by their relative difficulty both in initiating bids for JA as well as responding to them. Once accepted that JA was crucial in lexical development in typically developing (TD) children, recent trends have diverged from this perspective, shedding light on JA's role in lexical development in an ASD population. The purpose of the current study was to determine which components of JA children with ASD used to learn novel words. Nineteen children with ASD (aged 32-77 months) and 29 TD children (18-30 months) participated in a within-groups study of 4 experimental conditions with novel objects and a control condition with familiar objects. Three of the experimental conditions in which an experimenter attempted to teach the child a novel name for a novel object had a critical element of JA removed, while the fourth was a situation in which optimal JA could be attained. Study premeasures included receptive and productive language assessments and JA measures. MANOVA results indicated both groups learned the novel labels for the novel objects in the optimal and familiar conditions. The TD children had worse than chance performance in the condition in which JA cues were absent. Vocabulary size played a key role in how all participants performed on the tasks, suggesting a strong determinant of any child's ability to learn novel labels was his or her preexisting word usage. The ability to respond to bids for JA seemed to predict word learning outcome in children with ASD, but not for TD children. The ability to initiate bids for JA, however, had no significant effects on children's abilities to learn novel words. Implications and future research directions are discussed.

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