Personal pronoun errors in form versus meaning produced by children with and without autism spectrum disorder

Emily Zane, Sudha Arunachalam, Rhiannon Luyster

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review


The current study investigates whether the types of pronominal errors children with autism spectrum disorder (ASD) make are different from those of their TD peers at similar stages of language development. A recent review about language acquisition in ASD argues that these children show relative deficits in assigning/extending lexical meaning alongside relative strengths in morpho-syntax (Naigles & Tek, 2017). Pronouns provide an ideal test case for this argument because they are marked both for grammatical features (case) and features that reflect qualities of the referent itself (gender and number) or the referent's role in conversation (person). The form-meaning hypothesis predicts that children with ASD should struggle more with these latter features. The current study tests this hypothesis with data from a caregiver report, completed by caregivers of 151 children with and without ASD. Reported pronominal errors were categorized as meaning or form and compared across groups. In accordance with the form-meaning hypothesis, a higher proportion of children with ASD make meaning errors than they do form errors, and significantly more of them make meaning errors than TD children do.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Pages (from-to)389-404
Number of pages16
JournalJournal of Cultural Cognitive Science
Issue number3
StatePublished - Dec 2021


  • ASD
  • Autism
  • Language acquisition
  • Pronouns
  • Reference
  • Word Learning

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • Experimental and Cognitive Psychology
  • Linguistics and Language


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