, Volume 16, Issue 3, pp 335-349

Joint attention and language in autism and developmental language delay

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The relationship of gestural joint attention behaviors and the development of effective communication skills in autism and developmental language delay (DLD) was investigated. Autistic and DLD children matched for MA and MLU were compared on measures of gestural joint attention behavior, personal pronoun use, and spontaneous communicative behavior. DLD children responded correctly to joint attention interactions more often than autistic children, and their spontaneous gestural behavior was more communicative and developmental advanced. Correct production of “I/you” pronouns was related to number of spontaneous initiations for autistic but not for DLD children. Measures of spontaneous joint attention behaviors were in general not related to MA, CA, or MLU for either group. DLD children's performance suggests no special impairment of joint attention skills, whereas autistic children's performance suggests a joint attention deficit in addition to a language deficit.

This work was supported in part by a grant to the authors from the National Institute of Neurological and Communicative Disorders and Stroke, No. NS18448. The authors would like to express thanks to David Breiger, Sheryl Hughes, Debra Davis, Sharon Hall, Robin McEvoy, and JoLynn Archer for their valuable help in data collection and coding, to David Francis and Sheryl Hughes for help in statistical analysis, and to Betty Redwine for her work in scheduling.