The use of hand gestures to communicate about nonpresent objects in mind among children with autism spectrum disorder

Wing Chee So*, Ming Lui, Tze Kiu Wong, Long Tin Sit

*Corresponding author for this work

Research output: Contribution to journalJournal articlepeer-review

12 Citations (Scopus)


Purpose: The current study examined whether children with autism spectrum disorder (ASD), in comparison with typically developing children, perceive and produce gestures to identify nonpresent objects (i.e., referent-identifying gestures), which is crucial for communicating ideas in a discourse. Method: An experimenter described the uses of daily-life objects to 6- to 12-year-old children both orally and with gestures. The children were then asked to describe how they performed daily activities using those objects. Results: All children gestured. A gesture identified a nonpresent referent if it was produced in the same location that had previously been established by the experimenter. Children with ASD gestured at the specific locations less often than typically developing children. Verbal and spatial memory were positively correlated with the ability to produce referent-identifying gestures for all children. However, the positive correlation between Raven’s Children Progressive Matrices score and the production of referent-identifying gestures was found only in children with ASD. Conclusions: Children with ASD might be less able to perceive and produce referent-identifying gestures and may rely more heavily on visual–spatial skills in producing referentidentifying gestures. The results have clinical implications for designing an intervention program to enhance the ability of children with ASD to communicate about nonpresent objects with gestures.

Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)373-382
Number of pages10
JournalJournal of Speech, Language, and Hearing Research
Issue number2
Publication statusPublished - 1 Apr 2015

Scopus Subject Areas

  • Language and Linguistics
  • Linguistics and Language
  • Speech and Hearing


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