The ASD group demonstrated significant comprehension at visit 3; however, the ASD group was unable to maintain this level of comprehension consistently for the rest of the visits with re-emerging significant comprehension for object wh-questions at visit 6. We next consider the number of children in both groups at each visit who demonstrated wh-question comprehension. Number of children showing comprehension or no comprehension of Wh-questions subject—and object—questions combined. To further investigate individual differences, Pearson's correlations were conducted between measures of early language measures and concurrent or later wh-question comprehension scores i.
We next analyzed the degree to which children's early understanding of canonical SVO word order, and their social competence, each independently predicted later wh-question comprehension. Therefore, we increased our power by creating a larger dataset, which combined our participants and those of Goodwin et al. Combining the datasets is not automatically justified, because while the participant selection and procedures were identical, both the wh-question videos and the word order videos differed to some extent.
Second, whereas the characters for the two word order videos were different girl and boy vs. Third, whereas the wh-question stimuli were different across the videos i. Fourth, the pattern of findings from the wh-question videos was similar in both datasets, with the TD children in both groups displaying stable comprehension of wh-questions by 32 months of age, and the children with ASD, in both groups demonstrating comprehension by 53—54 months of age Goodwin et al. We believe these to be sufficient reasons for combining the datasets; however, we acknowledge that predictors of wh-question acquisition might vary according to animacy of the arguments Tyack and Ingram, ; Philip et al.
We defer further consideration of this point to the discussion section; for now, we consider the goal of discovering such predictors to warrant this exploratory analysis. Thus, the combined dataset for the word order-wh-question comparison now included 35 participants in the TD group and 31 in the ASD group. We conducted bivariate correlations between the word order measure, Vineland socialization, and communication scores separately and averaged, and subject and object wh-question comprehension scores at relevant visit.
Thus, the models included the children's word order scores, their visit 1 Mullen visual reception scores, their visit 2 CDI language scores, their visit 1 and visit 2 Vineland communication scores, and the average of the Vineland communication and socialization score.
A measure of visual reception was included because this taps into children's non-verbal IQ, which is an important indicator of the children's ability to attend to and learn from their world. The third regression model used visit 6 subject wh-question comprehension score as the outcome variable, yielding two significant models.
Vineland composite, average of vineland socialization, and communication scores at visit 1 and 2.
In this study, we addressed two main questions: a Viewing these new wh-question videos, which included animate agents and familiar actions and verbs, did children with ASD demonstrate comprehension of subject- and object-wh-questions at the same visit or language level as the TD children? Addressing our first question, with these new videos, we found overall significant comprehension of wh-questions by both groups i.
More detailed scrutiny of performance at each visit, though revealed that TD children demonstrated robust comprehension of both subject- and object-questions by 32 months of age i.
Because their performance was not consistent across the first three visits when they viewed the wh-question video, we are cautious about claiming wh-question comprehension in the ASD group before visit 6. The two groups thus achieved wh-question comprehension at different ages and visits; however, the language level of the ASD group at visit 6, when they showed comprehension of object-wh-questions, was quite similar to those of TD children at visit 4, the earliest visit when these children showed stable comprehension of both object-wh and subject-wh-questions.
Addressing our second question, we found that wh-question comprehension was related to both grammatical and social-communication abilities.
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That is, for both TD children and children with ASD, their comprehension of SVO word order as well as their Vineland social-pragmatic scores at earlier visits predicted their later performance on wh-question comprehension. Our new wh-question videos were designed with the goal of making wh-question processing easier, because we included animate subjects—who are the typical agents in prototypical transitive actions—and verbs that were more familiar to both TD children and children with ASD.
Therefore, we expected to find robust subject- and object- wh-comprehension performance in our TD group at visit 3 the first time they saw the video , replicating Goodwin et al. However, our results were, somewhat surprisingly, quite parallel to those of Goodwin et al. Thus, the new videos did not elicit earlier evidence of comprehension from the ASD group.
Replicating Goodwin et al. Interestingly, though, we did not replicate the correlations that Goodwin et al. Taken together, these findings suggest that using familiar verbs and animate agents did not change the basic findings of Goodwin et al. Even though children were only required to look at the correct answer, they still demonstrated impairments in their understanding.
We suggest that these findings support the argument that these children's difficulties with wh-questions have a grammatical-origin. Indeed, the regressions suggested that wh-question comprehension is related to both grammatical and social-pragmatic factors. These relationships held even when non-verbal cognition and general vocabulary level were controlled; therefore, they are not indicators of general ability to perform well in cognitively or linguistically demanding tasks.
We suggest, instead, that the children's competence at understanding the canonical English SVO word order helped them become more efficient in subsequently processing wh-questions, in that having stable representations of SVO helped them understand that the moved wh-word in a subject-wh or object-wh-question maps onto the grammatical subject or object of the verb, respectively. These findings provide evidence for the continuity of grammatical knowledge in both young TD children and children with ASD, such that they might use early-developing syntactic knowledge to process the grammatical role of wh-words.
These findings extend those of Naigles et al. That correspondence was thus between understanding SVO sentences with familiar verbs and learning verbs in SVO sentences with novel verbs—i. Our current findings extend Naigles et al. Moreover, when the NP-trace was in object position, the surface word order was OVS; thus, the correspondence we observed in the ASD group between SVO comprehension at visits 1—2 and object-wh-question at visit 6 suggests that the children with ASD are not perseverating on one specific word order and had some knowledge of the abstract relationship between sentences that had different surface orders.
This observed correspondence thus supports the argument that the wh-question deficit in children with ASD has a grammatical origin. However, our findings also support the argument that wh-question impairments in children with ASD also derive from pragmatic impairments. That is, the TD group and the ASD group's comprehension of wh-question at the later visits was predicted by their social-pragmatic abilities at the earlier visits, in that children with better performance on wh-question comprehension were reported by their parents to have better communication and socialization skills on the Vineland.
Social-pragmatic abilities might play a role in the development of wh-question understanding in both general and specific ways. In general terms, children who are more attuned to their social environment might simply pay more attention to the language their parents use, which would include wh-questions see also Goodwin et al. In specific terms, children who are more aware of the social conventions about when and how to ask wh-questions, and who pay attention to their parents' pointing to objects when they the parents ask questions, would be expected to better understand the referents of wh-questions.
Frontiers | Processing Load Imposed by Line Breaks in English Temporal Wh-Questions | Psychology
When children are more attuned to their social environment, they can better understand the focus and interpretation of how questions are used and formulated by their family members. Better social-pragmatic abilities would enable children to understand the different functions of wh-questions and the particular context within which they are used which can strengthen their knowledge and understanding of wh-questions.
Limitations of this study include participant characteristics, our choice of social-pragmatic measures and a lack of a joint attention measure, and the wh-question video itself. First, we are restricted in the generalizability of these findings with children with ASD as these children were receiving ABA as their primary intervention, and therefore the generalizability of these findings to the ASD population as a whole are limited. Second, we are limited in our argument to further distinguish syntactic challenges from pragmatic challenges, as this study did not analyze children's production data of wh-questions or their joint attention skills; that is, we are limited in our knowledge about whether children in our study also showed deficits in their wh-question production, indicating a pragmatic challenge however, note that Goodwin et al.
Also, joint attention would be a key predictor to investigate in future studies because it taps into pragmatic skills in children and therefore it would be important to examine whether joint attention skills are related to later syntactic development. Perhaps, if their joint attention is impaired, then we might also see pragmatic aspects of their wh-question production being impaired.
Third, it is possible that we made the wh-question task harder for children with ASD by using two animate characters engaged in causative actions. As has been shown in prior research, a prototypical action is an animate object performing an action on an inanimate object Slobin, Perhaps our inclusion of animate patients in the current wh-question video made wh-question processing more challenging, possibly even for both groups but see Gagliardi et al. In line with this, another limitation is that we combined the wh-question video with animate characters with the wh-question video with inanimate characters in our prediction analyses and it is possible that there can be different predictors for animate characters and inanimate characters.
Developing strong research questions
For example, Tyack and Ingram and Philip et al. It is possible that TD children in our study did not show early stable comprehension of wh-questions as their peers did in Goodwin et al. We believe that this would not be an issue for children with ASD because of their pragmatic impairment; however, this remains to be an open question. In future work, it would be interesting to discover extent of the impairment in wh-questions in other languages, and investigate whether the deficits in understanding such wh-questions also hold for languages that do not require wh-movement.
Members of our group have used Goodwin et al.
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This is an important step toward determining which grammatical components of wh-questions are most challenging for children with ASD. Additionally, we concluded that the children with ASD showed comprehension at visit 6 rather than at visit 3 because they did not show comprehension at visits 4 and 5; however, this U-shaped curve is puzzling and future studies are needed to replicate this effect. In conclusion, the IPL paradigm has elicited comprehension of wh-questions in 2-year-old TD children; in contrast, children with ASD demonstrated delayed and somewhat inconsistent understanding of these same wh-questions.
Changing the actions to more familiar ones did not help children with ASD demonstrate earlier comprehension compared to previous results Goodwin et al. Our findings suggest that wh-questions present linguistic challenges to children with ASD that go beyond issues of stimuli. Thus, the current study shows that wh-question challenges seem to be related to both grammatical and pragmatic challenges in children with ASD.
Finally, our finding that both linguistic and social-pragmatic factors are implicated in wh-question acquisition in children with ASD is consistent with the recent report of Naigles et al. These studies provide the first demonstrations that both specifically linguistic and generally social factors are influential in the language challenges of children with ASD, and we encourage more researchers to include measures that tap into multiple domains when they are investigating the language of these individuals. This study was carried out in accordance with the recommendations of the University of Connecticut, Institutional Review Board with written informed consent from all subjects.