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UBC Theses and Dissertations

The early lexical acquisition of a child with autism spectrum disorder Gibson, Deborah


The case study examines two questions on the lexical acquisition of a language-delayed child with Autism Spectrum Disorder. The language development of the child, Graeme, from his birth to the age of three years, one month, is primarily sourced from naturalistic data collected in a daily diary by the mother/researcher. The first research question concerns the relationship between the child’s social/cognitive development and the major transitions in his earliest acquisition of comprehension and production. The major transitions in Graeme’s early word learning were the onset of comprehension, the onset of production, the onset and growth of intentional communication, the production of his initial idiosyncratic word/signs, the word spurt in comprehension, the semantic re-organisations during that period, and, at the end point, learning words spontaneously in comprehension. The milestones in Graeme’s social/cognitive development that were found to correlate with the transitions in his lexical acquisition were the naming insight, symbolic representation, exhaustive categorisation, and the joint attention abilities of gaze and point following, pointing, intersubjectivity, and initiating joint attention. These joint attention skills provided Graeme, a nonverbal child, with a means to ask for the names of things (his name question). The second research question examines the current definitions of the earliest words in production. A case is made for an extended definition of early words to include the acquisition of the earliest meaningful idiosyncratic productions of vocalisations and gestures of children with the language delay characteristic of autism.

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