Journal of Autism and Developmental Disorders

, Volume 47, Issue 6, pp 1791–1805 | Cite as

Attempting to “Increase Intake from the Input”: Attention and Word Learning in Children with Autism

  • Elena J. TenenbaumEmail author
  • Dima Amso
  • Giulia Righi
  • Stephen J. Sheinkopf
Original Paper


Previous work has demonstrated that social attention is related to early language abilities. We explored whether we can facilitate word learning among children with autism by directing attention to areas of the scene that have been demonstrated as relevant for successful word learning. We tracked eye movements to faces and objects while children watched videos of a woman teaching them new words. Test trials measured participants’ recognition of these novel word-object pairings. Results indicate that for children with autism and typically developing children, pointing to the speaker’s mouth while labeling a novel object impaired performance, likely because it distracted participants from the target object. In contrast, for children with autism, holding the object close to the speaker’s mouth improved performance.


Autism Eye-tracking Word-learning Attention to faces Joint attention 



Special thanks to Madeline Mahowald and Emily Davis for their assistance with the stimuli and to the participant families.


This research was supported by grants from the Autism Science Foundation (Grant No.11-1013), Autism Speaks (Grant No. 7897), and the National Institute of Mental Health (NIMH) (Grant No. 5T32MH019927-24).

Author contribution

ET helped in conception of the study, participated in its design, coordinated data collection, performed the statistical analysis, and drafted the manuscript; DA participated in the design and interpretation of the data; GR helped in conception and design of the study, and participated in interpretation of the data; SS participated in the design of the study, data collection, and interpretation of the data. All authors read and approved the final manuscript.


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Copyright information

© Springer Science+Business Media New York 2017

Authors and Affiliations

  1. 1.Brown Center for the Study of Children at RiskWomen and Infants HospitalProvidenceUSA
  2. 2.Department of Cognitive, Linguistic and Psychological SciencesBrown UniversityProvidenceUSA
  3. 3.Emma Pendleton Bradley HospitalEast ProvidenceUSA
  4. 4.Department of Psychiatry & Human BehaviorBrown UniversityProvidenceUSA

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