Factors Affecting Gestural Development in Children with Autism

Poster Presentation
Thursday, May 10, 2018: 11:30 AM-1:30 PM
Hall Grote Zaal (de Doelen ICC Rotterdam)
H. Ying1, M. K. Y. Wong2, W. Y. Lam2, C. H. E. Cheng2 and W. C. So3, (1)The Chinese University of Hong Kong, HONG KONG, China, (2)The Chinese University of Hong Kong, Hong Kong, Hong Kong, (3)Educational Psychology, The Chinese University of Hong Kong, Hong Kong, Hong Kong

Gestures are spontaneous hand movements produced during communication. They convey ideas and thoughts. Previous studies have reported a delay in gestural development in children with autism, in comparison to their typically developing peers (e.g., Luyster et al., 2007; So, et al., 2015b).


Little is known about the individual variations in gestural use among children with autism and underlying factors affecting gestural use. Understanding these issues can provide us insights into the spectrum of gestural communication skills, and more importantly, help us to design tailor-made intervention programs for individual children with autism.


Twenty-nine Cantonese-speaking children aged 4 to 7 years participated in this study. All of them were diagnosed with ASD or autistic disorder. We assessed their severity of autistic symptoms (by the Social Communication Questionnaire, SCQ) and visual memory skills (by Beery Visual Perception sub-test, VM) since they were found to be correlated to gestural use (So, et al., 2016; So, Wong, & Lam, 2016). Higher scores in SCQ represent more sever communication and social skill symptoms while higher scores in VM represent better visual memory. Gestural communication skills were assessed in the recognition task, followed by the production task. Twenty pantomime gestures (e.g., DRIVE) and markers (e.g., GREETING) commonly used in daily life were tested in the assessments (So et al., 2016). In the gestural recognition task, children were asked to point to the corresponding meaning of these gestures demonstrated by a human model. In the gestural production task, children were asked to produce these gestures, one at a time, when prompted by the human experimenter (e.g., “What is the gesture for eating?”). Gestural production was evaluated by four parameters (use of hands, hand-shapes, placement, direction of movement). Any inaccuracy in one of the parameters would lead to erroneous production of that gesture.


There were individual variations in gestural recognition and production. Two separate multilevel logistic regression analyses were conducted for gestural recognition and production task performance, with participants and gesture items as the random effects and chronological age and scores of SCQ and VM were the fixed effects in each analysis. We found that SCQ negatively predicted gestural production, and VM positively predicted gestural recognition and production. The effect of age was not statistically significant in both analyses. Results indicated that children with better visual memory recognized and produced gestures better than those with poorer visual memory (Figure 1 right panels), suggesting that visual memory is substantially involved in gestural learning. Those with mild autistic symptoms gestured more accurately than those with more severe symptoms (Figure 1 left panels). This is probably because children with more severe autistic symptoms may not be able to use nonverbal means, including gestures, to communicate with others.


Our findings suggested that we should take autistic symptoms and visual memory into consideration when designing gestural intervention programs that can cater different needs of children with autism. For example, more training sessions should be provided for those with poorer visual memory and more severe autistic symptoms.