Journal of Autism and Developmental Disorders

, Volume 43, Issue 1, pp 230–235 | Cite as

Brief Report: Pointing Cues Facilitate Word Learning in Children with Autism Spectrum Disorder

  • Hironori AkechiEmail author
  • Yukiko Kikuchi
  • Yoshikuni Tojo
  • Hiroo Osanai
  • Toshikazu Hasegawa
Brief Report


Children with autism spectrum disorder (ASD) reportedly have difficulty associating novel words to an object via the speaker’s gaze. It has also been suggested that their performance is related to their gaze duration on the object and improves when the object moves and becomes more salient. However, there is a possibility that they have only relied on the object’s movement and have not referenced the speaker’s cue (i.e. gaze direction). The current study with children with ASD and typically developing children aged 6–11 years demonstrated that adding another speaker’s cue (i.e. pointing) improves the performance of children with ASD. This suggests that additional speaker’s cues may help referential word learning in children with ASD.


Autism spectrum disorder Word learning Gaze Pointing Eye-tracking 



We would like to acknowledge all the children, their parents and the teachers of Musashino Higashi Gakuen. We thank all the staffs for their assistance in data collection and thank Harumi Kobayashi and Masanori Kobayashi for the comments on earlier version of the draft, and all the members of Hasegawa Lab and Kobayashi Lab for their supports and the helpful discussions. This study was supported by the Japan Society for the Promotion of Science (JSPS): Grant-in-Aid for JSPS Fellows (2011090 and 2310946), JSPS: the 21st Century COE Program J05 “Center for Evolutionary Cognitive Sciences at the University of Tokyo” and JSPS: Grant-in-Aid for Scientific Research (B; 19330210 and B; 21330166).


  1. Akechi, H., Senju, A., Kikuchi, Y., Tojo, Y., Osanai, H., & Hasegawa, T. (2011). Do children with ASD use referential gaze to learn the name of an object? An eye-tracking study. Research in Autism Spectrum Disorders, 5, 1230–1242.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  2. American Psychiatric Association. (1994). Diagnostic and statistical manual of mental disorders (4th ed.). Washington, DC: American Psychiatric Association.Google Scholar
  3. Baldwin, D. A. (1991). Infants’ contribution to the achievement of joint reference. Child Development, 62, 875–890.PubMedCrossRefGoogle Scholar
  4. Baron-Cohen, S., Baldwin, D. A., & Crowson, M. (1997). Do children with autism use the speaker’s direction of gaze strategy to crack the code of language? Child Development, 68, 48–57.PubMedCrossRefGoogle Scholar
  5. Berument, S. K., Rutter, M., Lord, C., Pickles, A., & Bailey, A. (1999). Autism screening questionnaire: Diagnostic validity. The British Journal of Psychiatry, 175, 444–451.PubMedCrossRefGoogle Scholar
  6. Carpenter, M., Nagell, K., & Tomasello, M. (1998). Social cognition, joint attention, and communicative competence from 9 to 15 months of age. Monographs of the Society for Research in Child Development, 63, 1–143.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  7. Dairoku, H., Senju, A., Hayashi, E., Tojo, Y., & Ichikawa, H. (2004). Development of Japanese version of autism screening questionnaire. Kokuritsu Tokushu Kyoiku Sougou Kenkyusho Bunshitsu Ippan Kenkyu Houkokusho, B, 184, 19–34.Google Scholar
  8. Doherty, M. J., & Anderson, J. R. (1999). A new look at gaze: Preschool children’s understanding of eye-direction. Cognitive Development, 14, 549–571.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  9. Jaswal, V. K. (2010). Explaining the disambiguation effect: Don’t exclude mutual exclusivity. Journal of Child Language, 37, 95–113.PubMedCrossRefGoogle Scholar
  10. Kobayashi, H. (1998). How 2-year-old children learn novel part names of unfamiliar objects. Cognition, 68, B41–B51.PubMedCrossRefGoogle Scholar
  11. Koegel, R. L., Shirotova, L., & Koegel, L. K. (2009). Brief report: Using individualized orienting cues to facilitate first-word acquisition in non-responders with autism. Journal of Autism and Developmental Disorders, 39, 1587–1592.PubMedCrossRefGoogle Scholar
  12. Luyster, R., & Lord, C. (2009). Word learning in children with autism spectrum disorders. Developmental Psychology, 45, 1774–1786.PubMedCrossRefGoogle Scholar
  13. McGee, G. G., Krantz, P. J., Mason, D., & McClannahan, L. E. (1983). A modified incidental-teaching procedure for autistic youth: Acquisition and generalization of receptive object labels. Journal of Applied Behavior Analysis, 16, 329–338.PubMedCrossRefGoogle Scholar
  14. Parise, E., Cleveland, A., Costabile, A., & Striano, T. (2007). Influence of vocal cues on learning about objects in joint attention contexts. Infant Behavior & Development, 30, 380–384.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  15. Preissler, M. A., & Carey, S. (2005). The role of inferences about referential intent in word learning: Evidence from autism. Cognition, 97, B13–B23.PubMedCrossRefGoogle Scholar
  16. Raven, J. C. (1956). Coloured progressive matrices. London: Lewis.Google Scholar
  17. Senju, A., & Csibra, G. (2008). Gaze following in human infants depends on communicative signals. Current Biology, 18, 668–671.PubMedCrossRefGoogle Scholar
  18. Sugishita, M., & Yamazaki, Y. (1993). Japanese Raven’s coloured progressive matrices. Tokyo: Nihon Bunka Kagakusya.Google Scholar
  19. Ueno, K., Nagoshi, N., & Konuki, S. (2008). Kaiga goi hattatsu kensa [picture vocabulary test-revised]. Tokyo: Nihon Bunka Kagakusha.Google Scholar

Copyright information

© Springer Science+Business Media, LLC 2012

Authors and Affiliations

  • Hironori Akechi
    • 1
    • 2
    • 3
    Email author
  • Yukiko Kikuchi
    • 1
    • 2
    • 4
  • Yoshikuni Tojo
    • 4
  • Hiroo Osanai
    • 5
  • Toshikazu Hasegawa
    • 1
  1. 1.Department of Cognitive and Behavioral Science, Graduate School of Arts and SciencesUniversity of TokyoTokyoJapan
  2. 2.Research Fellow of the Japan Society for the Promotion of ScienceTokyoJapan
  3. 3.Division of Information System DesignTokyo Denki UniversitySaitamaJapan
  4. 4.Department of Education for Children with DisabilitiesIbaraki UniversityIbarakiJapan
  5. 5.Musashino Higashi Center for Education and ResearchMusashino Higashi GakuenTokyoJapan

Personalised recommendations