Journal of Autism and Developmental Disorders

, Volume 49, Issue 8, pp 3351–3363 | Cite as

Specificity of Phonological Representations for Children with Autism Spectrum Disorder

  • Ron PomperEmail author
  • Susan Ellis Weismer
  • Jenny Saffran
  • Jan Edwards


This study investigated whether children with autism spectrum disorder (ASD) are sensitive to mispronunciations of familiar words and compared their sensitivity to children with typical-development. Sixty-four toddlers with ASD and 31 younger, typical controls participated in a looking-while-listening task that measured their accuracy in fixating the correct object when it was labelled with a correct pronunciation versus mispronunciation. A cognitive style that prioritizes processing local, rather than global features, as claimed by the weak central coherence theory, predicts that children with ASD should be more sensitive to mispronunciations than typical controls. The results, however, reveal no differences in the effect of mispronunciations on lexical processing between groups, even when matched for receptive language or non-verbal cognitive skills.


Autism Lexical processing Weak central coherence Phonology Eye-tracking 



We sincerely thank the families and children who made this research possible. We thank Jessica Umhoefer and Heidi Sindberg for their clinical expertise. We also thank Tristan Mahr, Elizabeth Premo, Courtney Venker, and all other members of the Little Listeners Project team for their input and assistance.

Author Contributions

RP drafted the manuscript, performed the statistical analysis, and led in the analysis and interpretation of the data; JE conceived of the study, led in its design and coordination, participated in the interpretation of the data and helped to draft the manuscript; JS helped to conceive of the study and participated in the design and interpretation of the data; SEW helped to conceive of the study, participated in the design and interpretation of the data; and supervised the data collection. All authors read and approved the final manuscript.


This study was funded by an NIDCD Grant (RO1 DC012513) and an NICHD Core Grant to the Waisman Center (U54 HD090256).

Compliance with Ethical Standards

Conflict of interest

The authors declare that they have no conflict of interest.

Ethical Approval

All procedures performed in studies involving human participants were in accordance with the ethical standards of the institutional and/or national research committee and with the 1964 Helsinki declaration and its later amendments and comparable ethical standards.

Informed Consent

Informed consent was obtained from all individual participants included in the study.

Supplementary material

10803_2019_4054_MOESM1_ESM.docx (64 kb)
Supplementary material 1 (DOCX 63 kb)


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Copyright information

© Springer Science+Business Media, LLC, part of Springer Nature 2019

Authors and Affiliations

  • Ron Pomper
    • 1
    • 2
    Email author
  • Susan Ellis Weismer
    • 2
    • 3
  • Jenny Saffran
    • 1
    • 2
  • Jan Edwards
    • 4
  1. 1.Department of PsychologyUniversity of Wisconsin-MadisonMadisonUSA
  2. 2.Waisman Center, University of Wisconsin-MadisonMadisonUSA
  3. 3.Department of Communication Sciences and DisordersUniversity of Wisconsin-MadisonMadisonUSA
  4. 4.Department of Hearing and Speech SciencesUniversity of MarylandCollege ParkUSA

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