Journal of Autism and Developmental Disorders

, Volume 46, Issue 1, pp 221–231 | Cite as

Parents’ Translations of Child Gesture Facilitate Word Learning in Children with Autism, Down Syndrome and Typical Development

  • Nevena Dimitrova
  • Şeyda Özçalışkan
  • Lauren B. Adamson
Original Paper


Typically-developing (TD) children frequently refer to objects uniquely in gesture. Parents translate these gestures into words, facilitating children’s acquisition of these words (Goldin-Meadow et al. in Dev Sci 10(6):778–785, 2007). We ask whether this pattern holds for children with autism (AU) and with Down syndrome (DS) who show delayed vocabulary development. We observed 23 children with AU, 23 with DS, and 23 TD children with their parents over a year. Children used gestures to indicate objects before labeling them and parents translated their gestures into words. Importantly, children benefited from this input, acquiring more words for the translated gestures than the not translated ones. Results highlight the role contingent parental input to child gesture plays in language development of children with developmental disorders.


Parental responsiveness Child gesture Parental verbal input Autism Down syndrome Language development 



This study was supported by grants by Swiss National Science Foundation (PBLAP1_142782, PI: Dimitrova), National Science Foundation (BCS 1251337, PI: Özçalışkan), and National Institutes of Health (R01 HD035612, PI: Adamson). We thank the participating families for their dedication to our research efforts. We also thank Lauren Schmuck and Jhonelle Bailey for their help in coding the data, along with the Action Editor and the reviewers for their helpful comments on earlier versions of the manuscript.

Author Contributions

All authors participated in the conception and design of the study, in the interpretation of the findings, and in the drafting of the manuscript. In addition, ND compiled the data and performed the statistical analysis, SO supervised the coding of child gestures, and LBA supervised the use of the archive of video records and verbal transcripts. All authors read and approved the final manuscript.

Compliance with Ethical Standards

Conflict of interest

The authors declare that they have no conflict of interest.

Human and Animal Rights and Informed Consent

This study was approved by an ethics committee and has therefore been performed in accordance with the ethical standards specified in the 1964 Declaration of Helsinki and its later amendments. All parents provided informed consent for their and their child’s participation prior to their inclusion in the study.


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Copyright information

© Springer Science+Business Media New York 2015

Authors and Affiliations

  • Nevena Dimitrova
    • 1
  • Şeyda Özçalışkan
    • 1
  • Lauren B. Adamson
    • 1
  1. 1.Department of PsychologyGeorgia State UniversityAtlantaUSA

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