Journal of Autism and Developmental Disorders

, Volume 43, Issue 2, pp 404–417

Non-word Repetition Impairment in Autism and Specific Language Impairment: Evidence for Distinct Underlying Cognitive Causes

Original Paper

DOI: 10.1007/s10803-012-1579-8

Cite this article as:
Williams, D., Payne, H. & Marshall, C. J Autism Dev Disord (2013) 43: 404. doi:10.1007/s10803-012-1579-8


Language-impaired individuals with autism perform poorly on tests such as non-word repetition that are sensitive clinical markers of specific language impairment (SLI). This has fuelled the theory that language impairment in autism represents a co-morbid SLI. However, the underlying cause of these deficits may be different in each disorder. In a novel task, we manipulated non-word stimuli in three ways known to influence the repetition accuracy of children with SLI. Participants with SLI were affected differently by these manipulations to children with autism. Children with autism performed similarly to language-matched typical children in terms of levels and patterns of performance, and types of error made, suggesting that the underlying cognitive cause of non-word repetition deficits is different in each disorder.


AutismSpecific language impairmentNon-word repetitionClinical markers



Language-impaired individuals with autism spectrum disorder


Verbal mental age-matched typically developing individuals


Chronological age-matched typically developing individuals


Specific language impairment


Clinical Evaluation of Language Fundamentals


Core language score


Contactin associated protein-like 2


ATPase, Ca++ transporting, type 2C, member 2


c-Maf inducing protein

Copyright information

© Springer Science+Business Media, LLC 2012

Authors and Affiliations

  1. 1.Department of PsychologyDurham UniversityDurhamUK
  2. 2.Department of Language and Communication ScienceCity UniversityLondonUK
  3. 3.Department of Psychology and Human Development, Institute of EducationUniversity of LondonLondonUK