Are linguistic and social-pragmatic abilities separable in neurotypical infants and infants later diagnosed with ASD?

Amy Yamashiro, Athena Vouloumanos

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review


Adult humans process communicative interactions by recognizing that information is being communicated through speech (linguistic ability) and simultaneously evaluating how to respond appropriately (social-pragmatic ability). These abilities may originate in infancy. Infants understand how speech communicates in social interactions, helping them learn language and how to interact with others. Infants later diagnosed with autism spectrum disorder (ASD), who show deficits in social-pragmatic abilities, differ in how they attend to the linguistic and social-pragmatic information in their environment. Despite their interdependence, experimental measures of language and social-pragmatic attention are often studied in isolation in infancy. Thus, the extent to which language and social-pragmatic abilities are related constructs remains unknown. Understanding how related or separable language and socialpragmatic abilities are in infancy may reveal whether these abilities are supported by distinguishable developmental mechanisms. This study uses a single communicative scene to examine whether real-time linguistic and social-pragmatic attention are separable in neurotypical infants and infants later diagnosed with ASD, and whether attending to linguistic and social-pragmatic information separately predicts later language and social-pragmatic abilities 1 year later. For neurotypical 12-month-olds and 12-month-olds later diagnosed with ASD, linguistic attention was not correlated with concurrent social-pragmatic attention. Furthermore, infants' real-time attention to the linguistic and social-pragmatic aspects of the scene at 12 months predicted and distinguished language and social-pragmatic abilities at 24 months. Language and social-pragmatic attention during communication are thus separable in infancy and may follow distinguishable developmental trajectories.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Pages (from-to)920-933
Number of pages14
JournalDevelopmental psychology
Issue number5
StatePublished - May 2019


  • Autism spectrum disorder
  • Infancy
  • Language
  • Social-pragmatic abilities
  • Speech perception

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • Demography
  • Developmental and Educational Psychology
  • Life-span and Life-course Studies


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