Pragmatic Profiles of Toddlers With Autism Spectrum Disorder at the Onset of Speech

Alona Oren, Esther Dromi, Sheila Goldberg, Aviva Mimouni-Bloch*

*Corresponding author for this work

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review


Using speech to communicate pragmatic functions is challenging among individuals with Autism Spectrum Disorder (ASD). Given the role language plays in developing everyday skills, we traced the unique pragmatic profile of early words, seeking comparison to typically developing (TD) toddlers at similar lexical stages. Twenty-four mother-toddler dyads participated (9 ASD and 15 TD). Dyads were video recorded when toddlers reached a productive lexicon of 40–70 words. These recordings were captured three times during naturalistic interaction and at two consecutive visits with a 2-month interval. Seven thousand three hundred seventy-six productions were analyzed and classified into four communicative intentions (Declaratives, Requests, Objections, and Non-Communicative speech). ASD toddlers were delayed in the emergence of words compared to TD toddlers, with a greater within-group variability (median 28 months, IQR 24.5–35, median 17 months, IQR 17–18, respectively, p < 0.001). In both groups, the most common communicative intention was Declarative. However, the percentage of Declaratives was higher among TD toddlers across visits compared to ASD toddlers. In both groups, most productions were directed toward the communicative partner, but ASD toddlers used Non-Communicative speech more often than TD peers. Non-Communicative speech gradually decreased over time. We conclude that while TD toddlers begin to talk with an already-established knowledge of the main communicative functions of words, ASD toddlers seem to have only a partial understanding and gradually improve communicative use as they expand their lexicon. These findings bear theoretical and practical implications for early intervention in ASD. We suggest that communicative profiles are affected by individual characteristics and by the interaction style.

Original languageEnglish
Article number612314
JournalFrontiers in Neurology
StatePublished - 18 Jan 2021


  • autism spectrum disorder
  • communicative intention
  • development
  • early language
  • naturalistic interaction
  • pragmatics
  • toddler (MeSH)


Dive into the research topics of 'Pragmatic Profiles of Toddlers With Autism Spectrum Disorder at the Onset of Speech'. Together they form a unique fingerprint.

Cite this