Personal pronoun usage in maternal input to infants at high vs. low risk for autism spectrum disorder

Angela Xiaoxue He, Rhiannon Luyster, Sung Ju Hong, Sudha Arunachalam

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review


Children with autism spectrum disorder (ASD) are prone to personal pronoun difficulties. This article investigates maternal input as a potential contributing factor, focusing on an early developmental stage before ASD diagnosis. Using Quigley and McNally’s corpus of maternal speech to infants (3–19 months; N = 19) who are either at high or low risk for a diagnosis of ASD, the study asked whether mothers used fewer pronouns with high-risk infants. Indeed, high-risk infants heard fewer second-person pronouns relative to their names than low-risk infants. The study further investigated the contexts in which mothers used infants’ names. The results indicated that mothers of high-risk infants often used the infants’ names simply to get their attention by calling them. This finding suggests that high-risk infants may thus hear relatively fewer pronouns because their mothers spend more time trying to get their attention. This may be related to differences in social-communicative behavior between low-risk and high-risk infants.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Pages (from-to)520-537
Number of pages18
JournalFirst Language
Issue number5
StatePublished - Oct 1 2018


  • Autism spectrum disorder
  • infants at-risk for autism
  • language development
  • parental input
  • pronoun

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • Language and Linguistics
  • Education
  • Linguistics and Language


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