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Using the Visual World Paradigm to Study Sentence Comprehension in Mandarin-Speaking Children with Autism

Published: October 3rd, 2018



1Department of Foreign Languages and Literatures, Tsinghua University, 2School of Human Environmental Sciences, University of Arkansas, 3Institute for Speech Pathology and the Brain Science, Beijing Language and Culture University, 4Department of Electronic Engineering, Tsinghua University
* These authors contributed equally

We present a protocol to examine the use of morphological cues during real-time sentence comprehension by children with autism.

Sentence comprehension relies on the ability to rapidly integrate different types of linguistic and non-linguistic information. However, there is currently a paucity of research exploring how preschool children with autism understand sentences using different types of cues. The mechanisms underlying sentence comprehension remains largely unclear. The present study presents a protocol to examine the sentence comprehension abilities of preschool children with autism. More specifically, a visual world paradigm of eye-tracking is used to explore the moment-to-moment sentence comprehension in the children. The paradigm has multiple advantages. First, it is sensitive to the time course of sentence comprehension and thus can provide rich information about how sentence comprehension unfolds over time. Second, it requires minimal task and communication demands, so it is ideal for testing children with autism. To further minimize the computational burden of children, the present study measures eye movements that arise as automatic responses to linguistic input rather than measuring eye movements that accompany conscious responses to spoken instructions.

Sentence comprehension relies on the ability to rapidly integrate different types of linguistic and non-linguistic information1,2,3,4,5,6,7,8,9,10,11. Prior research has found that young typically developing (TD) children incrementally compute the meaning of a sentence using both linguistic and non-li....

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This study has been approved by the Ethics Committee of the School of Medicine at Tsinghua University. Informed consent has been obtained from all individual participants included in the study.

1. Participant Screening and Study Preparation

  1. Recruit Mandarin-speaking preschool children with autism.
    NOTE: Their diagnoses should be confirmed by pediatric neurologists at hospitals using DSM-IV-TR40 or DSM-541 and, ideally, the numb.......

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The present study uses minimal pairs as in Examples 1a and 1b to investigate if and how fast children with autism can use event information encoded in two morphological markers during real-time sentence comprehension. It was predicted that if they are able to rapidly and effectively use event information in the two markers during real-time sentence comprehension, then they should look more at the BA-target event when hearing BA than when hearing BEI. Also, they should fixate more on the B.......

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In the current study, we present an eye-tracking paradigm that can directly and effectively assess the sentence comprehension abilities of children with autism. We found that 5-year-old children with autism, like their age-matched TD peers, exhibited eye gaze patterns that reflect effective and rapid use of linguistic cues during real-time sentence comprehension.

The findings provide evidence that eye-tracking (in particular, the visual world paradigm) is a sensitive measure of real-time sente.......

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This work was funded by the National Social Science Foundation of China [16BYY076] to Peng Zhou and the Science Foundation of Beijing Language and Cultural University under the Fundamental Research Funds for the Central Universities [15YJ050003]. The authors are grateful to the children, parents, and teachers at the Enqi Autism Platform and Taolifangyuan Kindergarten in Beijing, China, for their support in running the study.


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Name Company Catalog Number Comments
EyeLink 1000 plus eye tracker  SR Research Ltd.  The EyeLink 1000 plus allows remote eye tracking, without a head support. The eye tracker provides information about the participant’s point of gaze at a sampling rate of 500 Hz, and it has accuracy of 0.5 degrees of visual angle. 

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