Word Processing and Autism
While most babies and young children show a natural preference for kid talk, or child-directed speech, some children with autism do not seem to “tune in” to kid talk in the same way that their peers do. Some recent evidence suggests that a lack of attention to this kind of speech may make language learning difficult for young children with autism. The goal of the word processing and autism study is to understand what happens in the brains of young children with autism as they hear words presented in child- versus adult-directed speech. Young children with autism that are just beginning to learn words will come to our kid-friendly lab and listen to words (like ‘ball’ and ‘book’) and nonwords (like ‘teg’ and ‘neem’) spoken in child- and adult-directed speech, while a hat of sensors records their brainwaves. Do young children with autism exhibit a stronger response to words presented in kid talk? Is it similar to the response exhibited by young typically developing children? Does the strength of their response to words spoken in baby talk or adult-directed speech predict the number of words that they know? The answers to these questions can help us to understand how different types of speech help children with autism learn language, and to consider ways to improve treatment practices.