International Meeting for Autism Research: Maternal Noun Phrase Complexity and Child Language in Autism

Maternal Noun Phrase Complexity and Child Language in Autism

Thursday, May 20, 2010
Franklin Hall B Level 4 (Philadelphia Marriott Downtown)
10:00 AM
A. T. Meyer , Boston University, Boston, MA
L. R. Edelson , Psychology Department, Boston University, Boston, MA
H. Tager-Flusberg , Department of Psychology, Boston University, Boston, MA

Maternal speech has been found to predict child language acquisition in typically-developing children (e.g. Tamis-LeMonda, Bornstein, & Baumwell, 2001). Parents of typically-developing children have been shown to adjust their speech to their child’s linguistic ability (Phillips, 1973). Little is known about whether the same effect holds true in children with autism spectrum disorders.

Objectives: The objective of this study is to examine the relationship between the complexity of mothers’ noun phrases and language in children with autism.


Natural language samples were taken from a group of children with autism spectrum disorders (n=60) at age 3 (range 31-50 months) that were part of a larger longitudinal study.  Standardized assessments such as the Mullen Scales of Early Learning and the ADOS were administered.  A natural language sample was transcribed from a mother-child play session.  The nouns used by the mother during play were coded based on their complexity (e.g. use of determiners, possessives, plurals) and omissions of essential determiners.

Results: Mothers’ complexity of noun phrases is related to their children’s current linguistic abilities. The effect of maternal noun phrase complexity on language development in children with autism will also be explored longitudinally.


Mothers of children with autism are sensitive to their children’s language abilities and adjust their speech accordingly. Future studies will explore other aspects of maternal speech.

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