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Philos Trans R Soc Lond B Biol Sci. 1994 Oct 29;346(1315):97-104.

Language and communication in autistic disorders.

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MRC Cognitive Development Unit, London, U.K.


Communication problems form one of the key diagnostic criteria for autism, but there is a wide variety of manifestations. The theory that autistic individuals are unable to represent mental states can shed light on both the nature and range of communication impairments. This theory predicts that the specific communication deficit lies in the use of language to affect other minds. Language is not special in this respect, and is important only in so far as it may be used to give evidence of a speaker's thoughts and intentions. Thus, in autism, language level would be expected to relate strongly to performance on standard tests of theory of mind. Normal language acquisition appears to build upon the ability to recognize and orient towards ostensive behaviour. For this reason, it may not be necessary to postulate additional language impairments in order to explain the almost universal prevalence of language delay in children with autism. Autism, then, provides a model for studying the important distinction between language and communication, and demonstrates the vital part which mind-reading plays in normal human verbal and non-verbal interaction.

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