Visual Perspective-Taking and the Acquisition of American Sign Language by Deaf Children with Autism
University of Texas, Austin
Although a great deal is known about how hearing autistic children acquire speech, very little is known about how deaf autistic children acquire American Sign Language (ASL). The visual nature of ASL may pose specific challenges to deaf autistic learners that are different from those facing hearing children in learning speech. Children with autism have difficulty understanding other people's thoughts and feelings, and an early step towards reaching this understanding is the recognition that other people's visual perspectives differ from their own. Since sign languages are perceived visually, signers have to mentally take the visual perspective of their conversational partners in order to understand utterances properly. This research aims to study how deaf children on the autism spectrum acquire ASL. The predoctoral fellow will examine the sign language of deaf autistic children in comparison with typically-developing deaf children. The children's performance on a series of linguistic tasks will be analyzed in order to determine whether an impairment in visual perspective taking is evident in deaf autistic children, as well as what effect such an impairment may have on the acquisition of sign language. Results from this study will give us a better understanding of visual perspective taking in sign language, which could help teachers of autistic children, both deaf and hearing, develop better instructional strategies for these children.