Date of Completion


Embargo Period



language development; autism spectrum disorders; developmental psychology

Major Advisor

Letitia R. Naigles

Associate Advisor

Marie Coppola

Associate Advisor

Inge-Marie Eigsti

Associate Advisor

James A. Dixon

Field of Study



Doctor of Philosophy

Open Access

Open Access


There is an ongoing debate in the literature over the main source of information that children use when acquiring and developing language. Theories either support a computational linguistic perspective – in which children are thought to use aspects of language itself and their ability to perceive patterns to acquire language – or a social perspective, in which children are thought to use their ability to jointly attend with communication partners in order to acquire language. It is difficult to tease apart these sources of information in typically-developing children, but children with autism spectrum disorders have difficulty with both joint attention and language development, to varying degrees. The current study is a longitudinal analysis of specific language development in young children with autism and their typically-developing peers, using joint attention behaviors and computational behaviors to predict language growth. Joint attention proved to be important in lexical development but not as much in grammatical development, and computational abilities proved important specifically for pronoun use. Furthermore, the growth itself of early grammatical and lexical abilities predicted scores on later language tests. These results support a role for social abilities in the growth of lexical development, and a role for computational abilities on initial language abilities, but not on their growth over time.