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SCSB Colloquium Series: Flexible generalization in autism and language
March 15 | 4:00 pm - 5:00 pm
Speaker: Adele Goldberg, Ph.D.
Affiliation: Professor, Princeton University, Psychology Department, Programs in Linguistics, Cognitive Science, NLP
Host: Dr. Roger Levy
Talk title: Flexible generalization in autism and language
Abstract: Converging evidence from linguistics, psychology, and machine learning has led to a growing recognition that words and grammatical constructions are learned by flexibly categorizing over witnessed examples. This suggests a particular cognitive factor should impact the learning and use of language: skill in flexibly extending categories. Given prior findings that autistic individuals tend to display more veridical, less flexible categorization in the perceptual domain, we hypothesized that the same tendency in the cognitive domain would impact autistic individuals’ language. Two completed studies confirm that autistic children and adults underperform their neurotypical peers in language tasks that benefit from flexible meaning extension while performing comparably or better than the neurotypicals on related language tasks that did not require flexible categorization. The next step is to test an intervention aimed at jump-starting early word learning in young autistic children by drawing their attention to a particularly useful type of early meaning extension.