Date of Completion


Embargo Period



Marie Coppola, Deborah A. Fein

Field of Study

Psychological Sciences


Master of Science

Open Access

Open Access


Wh-questions are problematic for children with ASD. Prior research has shown delays in comprehension of subject-wh and object-wh questions in children with ASD compared to TD peers. However, earlier comprehension studies may have been limited because their stimuli included unfamiliar verbs (e.g., hit, produced by a few children with ASD) and events featuring inanimate agents and patients (e.g., an apple and a flower). The current study addressed both of these issues by investigating whether familiar verbs and animate characters elicit robust comprehension of wh-questions with children with ASD. We also investigate whether early grammatical abilities predict later wh-question comprehension. One index of early grammar is word order; children who process subject-verb-object (SVO) sentences correctly should be able to successfully understand wh-questions. In a longitudinal study of language acquisition, children with ASD (14 children with ASD averaging 33 months of age, 17 TD children averaging 19 months of age) were shown wh-question videos via the intermodal preferential looking paradigm. Both groups showed comprehension of wh-questions but children with ASD showed a delay in their comprehension. Moreover, both their word order understanding and their non-verbal IQ obtained earlier significantly and independently predicted performance of children with ASD on wh-question comprehension at their last visit. We conclude that their earlier grammatical competence (i.e., word order) guides their later wh-question comprehension.

Major Advisor

Letitia R. Naigles