Investigating the mechanisms driving referent selection and retention in toddlers at typical and elevated likelihood for autism spectrum disorder

Teodora Gliga, Alex Skolnick, Ute Liersch, Tony Charman, Mark H. Johnson, Rachael Bedford, The BASIS Team

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It was suggested that children's referent selection may not lay memory traces sufficiently strong to lead to retention of new word-object mappings. If this was the case we expect incorrect selections to be easily rectified through feedback. Previous work suggested this to be the case in toddlers at typical likelihood (TL) but not in those at elevated likelihood (EL) for autism spectrum disorder (ASD) (Bedford et al., 2013). Yet group differences in lexical knowledge may have confounded these findings. Here, TL (N = 29) and EL toddlers (N = 75) chose one of two unfamiliar objects as a referent for a new word. Both groups retained the word-referent mapping above chance when their choices were immediately reinforced but were at chance after corrective feedback. The same pattern of results was obtained when children observed another experimenter make the initial referent choice. Thus, children's referent choices lay memory traces that compete with subsequent correction; these strong word-object associations are not a result of children actively choosing potential referents for new words.
Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)1024-1036
Number of pages13
JournalJournal of Child Language
Issue number5
Early online date6 Jul 2021
Publication statusPublished - Sep 2022


  • Autism Spectrum Disorders
  • corrective feedback
  • referent selection
  • toddlers
  • word learning

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