Cognitive and language skills in autistic, mentally retarded, and normal children

Marian Sigman*, Judy A. Ungerer

*Corresponding author for this work

    Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

    221 Citations (Scopus)


    Compared the sensorimotor skills and play behaviors of 16 normal 16-25 mo old children, 16 mentally retarded children (CA 32-80 mo, MA 17-38 mo), and 16 autistic children (CA 39-74 mo, MA 18-38 mo) to identify deficits in object knowledge specific to autism. There were no differences in sensorimotor skills between the 3 groups except that the autistic Ss were deficient in the capacity to imitate gestures and vocalizations. Autistic Ss showed less diverse functional play, particularly directed toward dolls, and less symbolic play both spontaneously and after cuing. Although functional and symbolic play and the ability to imitate were correlated with receptive language for all 3 groups, sensorimotor skills were associated with receptive language only for the normal and the mentally retarded groups. The observation that autism involves deficits in certain cognitive concepts and not others suggests that representational thought may be manifested in 2 systems, only one of which is impaired in the autistic child. Another hypothesis is that the cognitive deficits manifested by autistic children may be related to their impaired social development, because all the areas of cognitive deficit involve significant social components. (23 ref) (PsycINFO Database Record (c) 2006 APA, all rights reserved).

    Original languageEnglish
    Pages (from-to)293-302
    Number of pages10
    JournalDevelopmental Psychology
    Issue number2
    Publication statusPublished - Mar 1984


    • sensorimotor skills & play behaviors, identification of deficits in cognitive & language development, autistic 3.3-6.2 yr olds vs mentally retarded 2.7-6.7 yr olds vs normal 1.3-2.1 yr olds


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