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Word learning and orthography (Clark & Reuterskiöld, 2023)

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posted on 2023-05-08, 22:42 authored by Grace T. Clark, Christina Reuterskiöld

Purpose: Previous research has demonstrated that typically developing children, verbal children with a diagnosis of autism, children with Down syndrome, children with developmental language disorder, and children with dyslexia can all benefit from orthographic support during word learning tasks. This study sought to determine if minimally speaking or nonspeaking children with a diagnosis of autism would also demonstrate an orthographic facilitation effect during a computer-based remote word learning task.

Method: Twenty-two school-age children with a diagnosis of autism and little to no spoken language learned four novel words by contrasting the words with known objects. Two novel words were taught with orthographic support present, and two were taught without orthographic support. Participants were exposed to the words a total of 12 times and then given an immediate posttest to assess identification. Parent report measures of receptive vocabulary, expressive vocabulary, autism symptomatology, and reading skills were also collected.

Results: During learning tasks, participants performed equally well whether orthographic support was given or not. For the posttest, however, participants performed significantly better for words that were taught with orthographic support. The presence of orthography improved accuracy and supported a greater number of participants to reach the passing criterion compared to the absence of orthography. Orthographic representations aided the word learning of those with lower expressive language significantly more than those with higher expressive language.

Conclusions: Minimally speaking or nonspeaking children with a diagnosis of autism benefit from orthographic support when learning new words. Further investigation is warranted to determine if this effect holds during face-to-face interactions using augmentative and alternative communication systems.

Supplemental Material S1. Reading skills of individual participants.

Clark, G. T., & Reuterskiöld, C. (2023). Word learning with orthographic support in nonspeaking and minimally speaking school-age autistic children. Journal of Speech, Language, and Hearing Research. Advance online publication.


This study was supported by a New York University Steinhardt fellowship awarded to Grace Clark.