Children with Autism Spectrum Disorder (ASD) aged 11–13 (N = 16) and an IQ-matched typically developing (TD) group aged 7–12 (N = 16) completed a graded grammaticality judgment task, as well as a standardized test of cognitive function. In a departure from previous studies, the judgment task involved verb argument structure overgeneralization errors (e.g., *Lisa fell the cup off the shelf) of the type sometimes observed amongst typically developing children, as well as grammatical control sentences with the same verbs (e.g., The cup fell off the shelf). The ASD group showed a smaller dispreference for ungrammatical sentences (relative to the control sentences) than did the TD group. These findings are indicative of a subtle grammatical impairment in even relatively high-functioning children with ASD.
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Incidentally, the introduction of DSM-5 has seen a decrease in the number of individuals diagnosed with Autism Spectrum Disorder, as compared with DSM-IV-TR Autistic disorder (AD) and pervasive developmental disorder-not otherwise specified (PDD-NOS); see Kulage et al. (2014) for a meta-analysis.
Although we also administered the child version of the Reading the mind in the eyes test revised version (Baron-Cohen et al. 2001) we did not analyse these results, as a reviewer raised concern regarding the use of this test as a diagnostic measure.
Composite scores were not calculated, as this requires the use of age-scaled scores, which is not appropriate, given that the aim is to match the two differently-aged groups on raw performance.
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We thank the children, parents and teachers who made this research possible. This study was funded by a grant from the Leverhulme Trust (RPG-158). Ben Ambridge and Colin Bannard are Reader and Lecturer in Psychology in the International Centre for Language and Communicative Development (LuCiD) at The University of Liverpool. The support of the Economic and Social Research Council [ES/L008955/1] is gratefully acknowledged.
Appendix 1: Test Sentences
Counterbalance Group A
The plate broke into pieces
Homer broke the plate into pieces
The flowers grew in the greenhouse
Homer grew the flowers in the greenhouse
The bread cooked in the oven
Homer cooked the bread in the oven
The truck slid across the floor
Bart slid the truck across the floor
The vase shattered into pieces
Bart shattered the vase into pieces
The cup fell off the shelf
*Lisa fell the cup off the shelf
The children arrived at the party
*Marge arrived the children at the party
The audience laughed at the joke
*Bart laughed the audience at the joke
The audience chuckled in anticipation
*Bart chuckled the audience in anticipation
The coin appeared out of thin air
*Homer appeared the coin out of thin air
Counterbalance Group B
The dress ripped at the seam
Marge ripped the dress at the seam
The glass smashed into bits
Lisa smashed the glass into bits
The scarf folded double
Marge folded the scarf double
The door opened in the hallway
Homer opened the door in the hallway
The ball bounced down the street
Lisa bounced the ball down the street
The bus went along the pavement
*Homer went the bus along the pavement
The books tumbled off the table
*Homer tumbled the books off the table
The fish swam in the tank
*Homer swam the fish in the tank
The money disappeared from the bank account
*Marge disappeared the money from the bank account
The card vanished into thin air
*Bart vanished the card into thin air
Appendix 2: Training Sentences, and Expected Ratings on the 5-Point Scale
The cat drank the milk (5)
*The dog the ball played with (1)
The frog caught the fly (5)
*His teeth man the brushed (1)
*The woman said the man a funny story (2–3)
*The girl telephoned her friend the news (3–4)
The man whispered his friend the joke (4–5)
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Ambridge, B., Bannard, C. & Jackson, G.H. Is Grammar Spared in Autism Spectrum Disorder? Data from Judgments of Verb Argument Structure Overgeneralization Errors. J Autism Dev Disord 45, 3288–3296 (2015). https://doi.org/10.1007/s10803-015-2487-5