Gesture and Language in Autism Spectrum Disorder A Study of Pointing Patterns and Language Predictors in Typical and Atypical Development
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Gestures are not only the most powerful communicative device for prelinguistic infants, they can also predict when they will produce their first words. Whether this predictive relation exists in children with Autism Spectrum Disorder (ASD) is unclear. Similarly, while previous studies on typical development (TD) show the importance of gesture type, and specifically of pointing (deictic) gestures, for socio-cognitive and communicative development, this topic is understudied in ASD. The present dissertation investigated gesture and language production in ASD by reviewing the extant literature on the link between the two, and by experimentally exploring the patterns of gesture morphology in pointing gestures and their association with expressive language in TD, ASD and children at high risk of receiving an autism diagnosis (HR). The study contributes a new framework for analysing pointing gestures by dissecting the manual features of gesture (presence of extended index finger and absence of contact with the referent) of relevance to social interaction and language development. Results show that although gestures predict spoken language in ASD as they do in TD, the novel approach to spontaneous pointing production analysis revealed specific qualitative deficits in gesture morphology in the ASD group. These findings suggest that children on the spectrum go through the same developmental pathway as TD children but with delays. Furthermore, these delays would be very much dependant on the level of severity of the condition. The implications of these results range from contributing to an earlier diagnosis of ASD to the implementation of new clinical interventions based on the promotion of pointing production in young children on the spectrum.