Comprehension of the Communicative Intent Behind Pointing and Gazing Gestures by Young Children with Williams Syndrome or Down Syndrome

John, Angela E.; Mervis, Carolyn B.
August 2010
Journal of Speech, Language & Hearing Research;Aug2010, Vol. 53 Issue 4, p950
Academic Journal
Purpose: In this study, the authors examined the ability of preschoolers with Williams syndrome (WS) or Down syndrome (DS) to infer communicative intent as expressed through gestures (pointing and eye-gaze shift). Method: Participants were given a communicative or noncommunicative cue involving pointing or gaze shifting in the context of a hiding game. Each child completed 4 conditions formed by crossing Communicative Style (communicative vs. noncommunicative) and Gesture (point vs. gaze shift). Results: At the group level, children in both groups located the toy significantly more often than expected by chance in the communicative condition but performed at chance in the noncommunicative condition. Children in both groups were more likely to infer communicative intent when pointing rather than gaze shifting was used. Individually, despite significantly lower developmental quotient and language standard scores, significantly more children with DS than with WS successfully used the experimenter's communicative gestures. Conclusions: At the group level, preschoolers with WS or DS were able to comprehend the communicative intent expressed by pointing and gazing gestures in a tabletop task. Children with DS evidenced significantly stronger pragmatic skills than did children with WS, providing further evidence that children with WS have more difficulty with sociocommunication than expected for chronological age or cognitive/language ability.


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