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The role of maternal input in the development of wh-question comprehension in autism and typical development*



Social deficits have been implicated in the language delays and deficits of children with autism (ASD); thus, the extent to which these children use language input in social contexts similarly to typically developing (TD) children is unknown. The current study investigated how caregiver input influenced the development of wh-question comprehension in TD children and language-matched preschoolers with ASD. Children were visited at four-month intervals over 1.5 years; mother–child play sessions at visits 1–2 were coded for maternal wh-question use. At visits 3–5 children watched videos in the Intermodal Preferential Looking paradigm, to assess their comprehension of subject and object wh-questions. Mothers' use of wh-questions with verbs and complex wh-questions positively predicted wh-question comprehension in the TD group; in contrast, mothers' use of wh-questions with ‘be’ as the main verb negatively predicted wh-question comprehension in the ASD group. Thus, TD children and children with ASD appear to use their linguistic input differently.


Corresponding author

Address for correspondence: Anthony Goodwin, University of ConnecticutDepartment of Psychology, 406 Babbidge Road, Unit 1020, Storrs, Connecticut 06269-1020, United States. e-mail:


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This research was funded by a grant from the National Institute on Deafness and Other Communication Disorders (Grant number: R01 DC007428). We are grateful to Rose Jaffery and Janina Piotroski for assistance in stimulus creation and data collection, and to the undergraduates of the UConn Child Language Lab for coding and transcribing. We thank George Hollich for sharing the wh-question IPL video with us, and Wendy Stone for making the STAT available to us. We appreciate the helpful commentary received from Inge-Marie Eigsti, Alice Carter, William Snyder, and attendants at IMFAR, BUCLD, and the SRCD biennial meetings. Finally, many thanks are due to the children and families who participated in our study.



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The role of maternal input in the development of wh-question comprehension in autism and typical development*



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