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28-08-2012 | Speech-language pathology | Article

Palm reversal sign language errors common in children with ASD


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medwireNews: Study findings suggest that children with autism spectrum disorder (ASD) who have native exposure to sign languages show palm reversal errors that are most likely reflective of "self-other mapping" deficits related to their condition.

The findings, published in the Journal of Communication Disorders, provide one of the first reports on the sign language development of deaf children with ASD.

"The sign language of children with ASD is of theoretical interest because sign language acquisition depends crucially on social and cognitive skills known to be impaired in ASD," say Aaron Shield and Richard Meier, both from The University of Texas at Austin, USA.

Using an initial sample of three native-signing children diagnosed with ASD, aged 4-7 years, the researchers found that these children showed a tendency to reverse palm orientation on signs specified for inward/outward orientation.

Indeed, palm orientation errors accounted for over half of all errors (11%, 44%, and 90%), with inward-outward palm orientation errors accounting for 78% of all palm orientation errors.

Many of the palm orientation errors were produced on signs for letters, numbers, and days of the week, which are often specified for inward or outward palm movements.

"These reversed palm orientations suggest that children with ASD imitate gestures as they appear from their own perspective," say the researchers.

Error rates in signing among these children with ASD (34-72%) were significantly higher than would be expected in typically developing deaf children of the same age.

In contrast, errors in hand shape (1-26%), movement (9-66%), and location (0% in two children and three location errors in one child) occurred less frequently than in typically developing deaf children.

When four children with ASD were compared with 12 typically developing deaf children for their performance on a fingerspelling task in a second study, only the latter group did not produce any errors in palm orientation despite being significantly younger.

"Therefore the palm reversals exhibited by the ASD children are unlikely to be the result of mere language delay," note the authors.

Furthermore, children with ASD all had difficulty with hand configuration (spelling) accuracy, but to a lesser degree than with palm orientation. Similar to children without ASD, those with ASD produced hand configuration errors reflecting common errors in learning to read and write.

Shield and Meier say the research findings suggest that instruments designed for detecting ASD in hearing children should be adapted for deaf children to reflect the observed impairments.

In addition, clinicians, educators, and parents should be made aware of these types of reversals in their children's signing.

medwireNews ( is an independent clinical news service provided by Springer Healthcare Limited. © Springer Healthcare Ltd; 2012

By Ingrid Grasmo, medwireNews Reporter

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