Objectives: We investigate ASD children’s comprehension of Wh-questions, using intermodal preferential looking.
Methods: Children are tested every four months in this ongoing longitudinal study. At the study’s onset, the ASD children had a mean age of 33 months and had language scores comparable to 20-month-old typical children. At Visit 4, when the children viewed the Wh-question (WHQ) video, they averaged 45.3 months of age and produced on average 34% of the words on the MacArthur CDI checklist. The typical children at the same visit averaged 33 months and produced 68.5% of the CDI checklist. The WHQ video (Seidl et al., 2003) showed ‘hitting’ events (e.g., an apple hitting a flower), followed by test trials showing the apple and flower on separate screens. The WHQ test audios were “What did the apple hit?/What hit the flower?”; the Name control audios were “Where’s the apple/flower?” Children’s eye movements were coded off-line.
Results: The ASD children showed no significant looking preferences when hearing the Wh-questions, either at Visit 4 or Visit 5. The comparison typical group demonstrated significant looking to the match at both visits.
Conclusions: Young children with autism have not yet demonstrated the ability to understand Wh-questions. These findings support the claim that even higher-functioning autistic children have specific grammatical weaknesses that are not completely attributable to pragmatic impairments.