Language Development

Attention and Word Learning Study 
Word learning involves attention to both auditory and visual information. To recognize, for example, that the word "ball" maps onto the round object you are looking at, children must listen for the word and watch for the visual cues about what you are referring to. Individuals with autism spectrum disorders (ASD) show marked differences in the way they look at social scenes. These differences may cause them to miss valuable word learning cues. In support of this possibility, children with ASD tend to have significant language impairments. In a preliminary investigation of attention and word learning, we used eye tracking to study how verbal and nonverbal autistic children look at word-learning scenes. Children watched videos of a woman labeling one of two objects in front of her ("Look it's a dax!"). The child's pattern of fixation during this familiarization was then used to predict their ability to recognize the correct target at test ("Look at the dax."). We found that children who looked at the speaker's face and the object were most successful at learning the new word. In the current studies, we are exploring how we can help children focus their attention on the areas of the scene that are most relevant for language learning to improve their opportunities for success. We hope to use our results to inform interventions for children with autism and children with language delays. Primary Investigators: Elena Tenenbaum PhD, Stephen Sheinkopf PhD, Dima Amso PhD.

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