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This study investigated whether children with autism have atypical development of morphological and syntactic skills, including whether they use rote learning to compensate for impaired morphological processing and acquire grammatical morphemes in an atypical order. Participants were children aged from 3-6 years who had autism (n = 17), developmental delay without autism (n = 7), and typically-developing children (n = 19). Language samples were taken from participants during the administration of the Autism Diagnostic Observation Schedule, and transcripts were coded using the Index of Productive Syntax, and for usage of Brown's grammatical morphemes.
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The ability to extract meaning through the use of syntactic cues, adapted from Naigles' (1990) paradigm, was investigated in Hebrew-speaking children with autism, those with specific language impairment (SLI) and those with typical language development (TLD), in an attempt to shed light on similarities and differences between the two diagnostic categories, both defined by primary language deficits. Thirteen children with autism and 13 with SLI were matched on chronological age, level of language functioning and gender, and 13 children with TLD were matched to the children in the two clinical groups according to language level, as measured by the CELF-P. Children with autism and children with TLD learned novel words using the syntactical cues in the sentences in which they were presented, whereas children with SLI experienced more difficulty, learning only that which would be expected from chance according to the binomial test.

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The production of the grammatical morphemes studied by Brown and his colleagues was examined in free speech samples from a cohort of 4-year-olds with a history of slow expressive language development (SELD) and a control group of normal speakers. Results suggest that children with SELD acquire morphemes in an order very similar to that shown in previous acquisition research. Children who were slow to begin talking at age 2 and who continued to evidence delayed expressive language development by age 4 showed mastery of the four earliest acquired grammatical morphemes, as would be expected, based on their MLUs, which fell at Early Stage IV.

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