The Language Project

Do Iconic Gestures Scaffold Comprehension of Speech for Children with Autism? Moderating Role of Intersensory Processing

Gestural cues support children's understanding of speech. We test whether children's receptivity to gestural cues depends on individual differences in autistic traits and intersensory processing ability.

Research Overview

Pre-kindergarten and Kindergarten-aged children typically understand speech better when speakers use hand gestures when talking with children. It is not clear, however, whether those high in autistic traits similarly benefit from seeing gestures paired with speech. One possibility is that one's ability to attend to audio-visual information plays a role in determining who benefits from speech. Specifically, we aim to recruit a sample of children with typical development pre-kindergarten and kindergarten age and measure their level of autistic traits through the parental report. We will then test for whether attention influences children's receptivity to gestural support of speech comprehension by asking them to play a block identification task. In the task, children are asked to pick amongst 4 different blocks that have varying features (i.e., stickers). In certain trials, speakers verbally prompt children to pick a block while either producing a gesture or not producing a gesture. Then, children's ability to attend to audio-visual stimuli will be measured by how fast and accurately they attend to a recorded speaker's face amongst distractors. We hypothesize children will perform best on the task when they are lower on autistic traits and higher in intersensory processing.

Age Group

  • Preschooler


Kathleen Eberhard, Ph.D.

Ariel Aguero, Graduate student

Samantha Malone, Graduate student

Michelle Ko, Graduate student


Research Impact

Contribute to a growing literature on gestural scaffolding of speech comprehension and fill in gaps regarding the role of individual differences in multisensory processing factors (i.e., autistic traits and intersensory processing). Knowing whether individual differences in multisensory processing are related with receptivity to gestural scaffolding of speech comprehension would inform pedagogy and communication styles used with children given their unique cognitive profiles.

Research Themes