Can children with Autism Spectrum Disorders learn new vocabulary from linguistic context?

Rebecca Lucas, Louisa Thomas, Courtenay Norbury

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This study investigated whether children with Autism Spectrum Disorders (ASD) can learn vocabulary from linguistic context. Thirty-five children with ASD (18 with age-appropriate structural language; 17 with language impairment [ALI]) and 29 typically developing peers were taught 20 Science words. Half were presented in linguistic context from which meaning could be inferred, whilst half were accompanied by an explicit definition. Children with ASD were able to learn from context. Condition did not influence phonological learning, but receptive semantic knowledge was greatest in the context condition, and expressive semantic knowledge greatest in the definitional condition. The ALI group learnt less than their peers. This suggests that at least some vocabulary should be taught explicitly, and children with ALI may need additional tuition.

© Springer Science+Business Media New York 2017. The attached document (embargoed until 09/05/2018) is an author produced version of a paper published in/accepted for publication in Journal of Autism and Developmental Disorders, uploaded in accordance with the publisher’s self- archiving policy. The final published version (version of record) is available online at Some minor differences between this version and the final published version may remain. We suggest you refer to the final published version should you wish to cite from it.
Original languageEnglish
Publication statusPublished - 9 May 2017


  • Autism spectrum disorder
  • language impairment
  • vocabulary instruction
  • word learning
  • context

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