Journal of Autism and Developmental Disorders

, Volume 46, Issue 10, pp 3195–3206 | Cite as

Attentional Learning Helps Language Acquisition Take Shape for Atypically Developing Children, Not Just Children with Autism Spectrum Disorders

  • Charlotte FieldEmail author
  • Melissa L. Allen
  • Charlie Lewis
Original Paper


The shape bias—generalising labels to same shaped objects—has been linked to attentional learning or referential intent. We explore these origins in children with typical development (TD), autism spectrum disorders (ASD) and other developmental disorders (DD). In two conditions, a novel object was presented and either named or described. Children selected another from a shape, colour or texture match. TD children choose the shape match in both conditions, children with DD and ‘high-verbal mental age’ (VMA) children with ASD (language age > 4.6) did so in the name condition and ‘low-VMA’ children with ASD never showed the heuristic. Thus, the shape bias arises from attentional learning in atypically developing children and is delayed in ASD.


Autism spectrum disorders Shape bias Shape-as-cue Attentional-learning-account Word learning Delay versus deviance 



The authors wish to thank the six day nurseries, three mainstream schools, fourteen specialist schools, one ASD unit within a mainstream school and two parental support groups who kindly allowed the study to take place within their setting. Thanks also go to the parents who consented for their children to participate in the research and, of course, the children themselves for taking part. Finally, thank you to Dave Gaskell for help with creating the shape bias stimuli. This study was conducted as part of the first author's doctoral research.


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Copyright information

© Springer Science+Business Media New York 2015

Authors and Affiliations

  • Charlotte Field
    • 1
    Email author
  • Melissa L. Allen
    • 1
  • Charlie Lewis
    • 1
  1. 1.Department of Psychology, Fylde CollegeLancaster UniversityLancasterUK

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