Investigating the relationship between language and picture understanding in children with autism spectrum disorder

Calum Hartley, Alice Trainer, Melissa Allen

Research output: Contribution to journalArticle (Academic Journal)peer-review

8 Citations (Scopus)
445 Downloads (Pure)


Previous studies report that minimally-verbal children with autism spectrum disorder (ASD) show impaired picture comprehension when matched to typically developing (TD) controls on language comprehension. Here we compare both picture comprehension and picture production abilities in linguistically-delayed children with ASD and TD controls matched on language comprehension and language production. Participants were 20 children with ASD (M age: 11.2 years) and 20 TD children (M age: 4.4 years) matched on age equivalents for receptive language (ASD M: 4.6 years; TD M: 4.5 years) and expressive language (ASD: 4.4 years; TD: 4.5 years). Picture comprehension was assessed by asking children to identify the 3-D referents of line drawings. Picture production was assessed by asking children to create representational drawings of unfamiliar objects and having raters identify their referents. The results of both picture tasks revealed statistically equivalent performance for TD children and children with ASD, and identical patterns of performance across trial types. These findings suggest that early deficits in pictorial understanding displayed by minimally-verbal individuals may diminish as their expressive language skills develop. Theoretically, our study indicates that development in linguistic and pictorial domains may be inter-related for children with ASD (as is the case for typical development).
Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)187-198
Number of pages12
Issue number1
Early online date13 Nov 2017
Publication statusPublished - Jan 2019


  • autism spectrum disorder
  • language
  • pictures
  • comprehension
  • production
  • symbolic understanding


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