Spontaneous Lexical Alignment in Children With an Autistic Spectrum Disorder and Their Typically Developing Peers

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It is well established that adults converge on common referring expressions in dialogue, and that such lexical alignment is important for successful and rewarding communication. The authors show that children with an autistic spectrum disorder (ASD) and chronological- and verbal-age-matched typically developing (TD) children also show spontaneous lexical alignment. In a card game, both groups tended to refer to an object using the same name as their partner had previously used for the same or a different token of the object. This tendency to align on a pragmatically conditioned aspect of language did not differ between ASD and TD groups, and was unaffected by verbal/chronological age, or (in the ASD group) Theory of Mind or social functioning. The authors suggest that lexical priming can lead to automatic lexical alignment in both ASD and TD children’s dialogue. Their results further suggest that ASD children’s conversational impairments do not involve an all-encompassing deficit in linguistic imitation.

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