Sign Language Research Solves the Mystery of Pronouns in Autism

One of the most studied issues in autism is communication. In order to maximise communicative development in people with autism, a variety of Augmentative and Alternative Communication systems (AAC) are used, including the use of signs from Sign Language.

On the other hand, there was some ignorance about why the correct use of pronouns in people with autism is poor. Recently, a study of deaf children with autism children of deaf parents who use sign language has provided some insight into this (Zeliadt, 2015).

(photo: © iStock/inhousecreative)

All the children in the study, in addition to autism, were deaf except one, who was hearing, but even in this case was the son of Deaf parents who used Sign Language fluently. The researchers conducted tests in which they found the same difficulty in the use of pronouns as that reported in previous research with children exposed to oral language: only 35% of them correctly used the pronoun "I" in tests to refer to themselves.

The researchers concluded that the misuse of pronouns or their omission in people with autism is not mainly due to difficulties in understanding the spoken word, as if so, they would improve the use of pronouns through Sign Language. Therefore, they believe that the real reason is the inability to distinguish between oneself and others.

Sign language thus helped, in this study, to discard the hypothesis and promote a better knowledge of the communicative disorders of autism.

In this video we can see Andy, a 10-year-old boy with cerebral palsy and autism communicating in American Sign Language (ASL):


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