Children with autism show deficits in grammatical judgments but this may be due to working memory deficits.

A brief review of: INGE-MARIE EIGSTI, LOISA BENNETTO (2009). Grammaticality judgments in autism: Deviance or delay Journal of Child Language DOI: 10.1017/s0305000909009362

In this study the authors compared 21 children with ASDs (19 males, 10 to 16 years) and 22 typically developing kids (20 males, 9 to 17 years) on a series of cognitive and language tests, including IQ, vocabulary, and a grammaticality judgment tasks. In this last task, the children are presented 140 sentences with and without grammatical errors. When errors were present, these could occur at the beginning, the middle, or the end of each sentence. The sentences also varied in length from 5 to 11 words. The sentences were presented orally and the participants had to identify which sentences had errors.

The ASD performed worse than the typically developing group across the entire grammaticality judgment task. However, the authors noted that the groups did NOT differ when the sentences were short or medium length. That is, the apparent relative weaker performance among the ASD group was mostly during long sentences. In addition, these group differences were more pronounced when the error was located at the end of long sentences. This indicates that the group differences may be due to difficulty in working memory and attention among the autism group.

However, it is unlikely that these findings are only attributable to working memory problems. Specifically, the ASD groups showed impaired performance only to some type grammatical errors but not others. That is, the ASD group had difficulty identifying omissions and substitution errors, but did not show difficulty identifying order or insertion errors. This suggests that attention and working memory difficulties interact with some unique deficits in grammaticality judgment.

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