The Influence of labelling on symbolic understanding and dual representation in Autism Spectrum Condition

Bethany Wainwright*, Melissa Allen, Kate Cain

*Corresponding author for this work

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

1 Citation (Scopus)
55 Downloads (Pure)


Background and aims: Children with autism spectrum condition (ASC) often have specific difficulties understanding that pictorial symbols refer to real-world objects in the environment. We investigated the influence of labelling on the symbolic understanding and dual representation of children with ASC.

Methods: Children with ASC and typically developing (TD) children were shown four coloured photographs of objects that had different functions across four separate trials. The participants were given either a novel label alongside a description of the object’s function or a description of the object’s function without a label. Children were then given 30 seconds to interact with an array of stimuli (pictures and objects) in a mapping test and in a generalisation test for each trial. This exploration phase allowed for spontaneous word-picture-referent mapping through free-play, providing an implicit measure of symbolic understanding.

Results: We found no significant difference in word-picture-referent mapping between groups and conditions. Both groups more often performed the described action on the target object in the exploration phase regardless of condition.

Conclusions and implications: Our results suggest that a spontaneous measure of symbolic understanding (such as free-play) may reveal competencies in word-picture-referent mapping in ASC.
Original languageEnglish
Number of pages13
JournalAutism and Developmental Language Impairments
Early online date9 Jun 2020
Publication statusE-pub ahead of print - 9 Jun 2020

Structured keywords

  • SoE Centre for Psychological Approaches for Studying Education
  • SoE Language Literacies and Education Network


  • symbolic understanding
  • word-picture-referent mapping
  • dual representation
  • autism


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