Brief Report: Children on the Autism Spectrum are Challenged by Complex Word Meanings

Sammy Floyd, Charlotte Jeppsen, Adele E. Goldberg

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

3 Scopus citations


The current work suggests that two factors conspire to make vocabulary learning challenging for youth on the Autism spectrum: (1) a tendency to focus on specifics rather than on relationships among entities and (2) the fact that most words are associated with distinct but related meanings (e.g. baseball cap, pen cap, bottle cap). Neurotypical (NT) children find it easier to learn multiple related meanings of words (polysemy) in comparison to multiple unrelated meanings (homonymy). We exposed 60 NT children and 40 verbal youth on the Autism spectrum to novel words. The groups’ performance learning homonyms was comparable, but unlike their NT peers, youth on the spectrum did not display the same advantage for learning polysemous words compared to homonyms.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Pages (from-to)2543-2549
Number of pages7
JournalJournal of Autism and Developmental Disorders
Issue number7
StatePublished - Jul 2021

All Science Journal Classification (ASJC) codes

  • Developmental and Educational Psychology


  • Communication
  • Language
  • Linguistics
  • Polysemy
  • Vocabulary


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