Dynamic synchronous gestures assist word learning in low functioning ASD Children

Authors: Rader, N., Zukow-Goldring, P., Miller, S. (2013)

Using eye-tracking technology, we looked at the effect of a speaker's gestures on word learning in Autism Spectrum Disorder (ASD) children 5-8 years old and typically developing children (TD) 2-6 years old. When the speaker statically held an object as it was named, the ASD children performed similarly to two-year-old children. However, with a dynamic gesture, the ASD children performed as well as children 4-6 years old. These results suggest that ASD children can benefit from the stimulus-driven attention provided by the dynamic gesture.
The test children (ASD and TD) viewed a video showing a speaker introducing two novel objects using either a static or dynamic show gesture. After the speaker introduced the two objects using nonce words, word learning was assessed. A Mangold Eye Tracking System was used to collect eye gaze data. The measurement used was a ratio consisting of correct looks over total looks during a test of word learning. Therefore, a higher ratio represents attention to the correct object then the word is spoken.
With a dynamic show gesture, the ASD children's word learning was as good as that of the oldest typically developing children, while it was similar to the youngest age group for the static gesture condition. These results suggest that word learning for ASD children could be aided by use of show gestures in a way that is true for much younger children. It may be the case that the motion in the show gesture produces stimulus-driven attention that assists the ASD children in attending at the critical time when they view the object and hear its word.
Poster download (presented at SRCD 2013)