Journal of Autism and Developmental Disorders

, Volume 45, Issue 1, pp 15–30 | Cite as

Symbolic Understanding of Pictures in Low-Functioning Children with Autism: The Effects of Iconicity and Naming

  • Calum HartleyEmail author
  • Melissa L. Allen
Original Paper


This research investigated whether symbolic understanding of pictures in low-functioning children with autism is mediated by iconicity and language. In Experiment 1, participants were taught novel words paired with unfamiliar pictures that varied in iconicity (black-and-white line drawings, greyscale photographs, colour line drawings, colour photographs). Unlike mental-age matched typically developing peers, children with autism generally mapped words onto pictures rather than depicted referents, however, they generalised labels more frequently in colour picture conditions. In Experiment 2, children with autism categorised a line drawing with its referent, rather than another picture, regardless of whether it was named. Typically developing children only viewed pictures as symbols when they were labelled. Overall, symbolic understanding of pictures in children with autism is facilitated by iconicity (particularly colour), but not language.


Autism Understanding pictures Iconicity Naming Picture exchange communication system 



We would like to thank the children and staff at Hillside Specialist School, Preston (UK), Sandgate School, Kendal (UK), Ghyllside Primary School, Kendal (UK), and Burton Preschool, Burton-in-Kendal (UK).


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Copyright information

© Springer Science+Business Media New York 2013

Authors and Affiliations

  1. 1.Department of PsychologyLancaster UniversityLancasterUK

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