Orthography Facilitates Vocabulary Learning for Children with Autism Spectrum Disorders (ASD)

Rebecca Lucas, Courtenay Norbury

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This study investigated the extent to which children with autism spectrum disorders (ASD) can use orthography to facilitate vocabulary learning, as is the case for typically developing (TD) children. Forty-one children aged 7-12 years, 20 with a formal diagnosis of ASD and 21 TD peers, were taught 16 low-frequency concrete science words, such as "breccia". Half of the stimuli had the written word presented alongside a picture of the target item (orthography present: OP) while the remaining items were taught with orthography absent (OA). During the learning phase, eye movements were recorded; there were no group differences in the time spent fixating the written form. Production, comprehension, and recognition of orthographic forms of new words were assessed immediately after learning and again after a 24-hour delay. The vocabulary learning of both groups was facilitated by the presence of orthography. Overall, the groups did not differ in comprehension of new words or recognition of new orthographic forms, although the children with ASD demonstrated superior phonological learning (as measured by a picture naming task) relative to TD peers. Additionally, both groups retained or increased new knowledge after 24 hours. The results suggest that presenting the written form during oral vocabulary teaching will enhance learning and provide a mechanism for children with ASD to increase word knowledge despite potential limitations in social learning.
Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)1317-1334
Number of pages18
JournalThe Quarterly Journal of Experimental Psychology
Issue number7
Early online date1 Jul 2014
Publication statusPublished - 1 Jul 2014

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