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Reconceptualising word learning difficulties in children with autism using novel empirical and computational methods

Project: Funded ProjectResearch

1/10/16 → …

Many children with ASD have enormous difficulty learning words and approximately 30% have virtually no language at 9 years of age. Investigating why so many of these children struggle to learn words is a global research priority and a necessary precursor to designing effective interventions. This project will explore multiple aspects of word learning (e.g. referent selection, retention, generalisation) in minimally-verbal children with ASD in order to isolate the source, or sources, of their difficulties. We will also assess how these aspects of word learning are influenced by autistic children's reduced sensitivity to informative social cues, such as gaze and gesture. Based on these data, we will develop a computational model simulating how the stages of word learning might interact to produce the problems observed in children with ASD. Crucially, this project will provide a necessary foundation on which to develop new evidence-based interventions that scaffold each stage of word learning, thus providing optimal conditions for children with ASD.