On the nature of communication and language impairment in autism

Peter Clive Mundy, Jessica Markus

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

41 Scopus citations


The social and communication disturbance of autism is characterized by a syndrome-specific pattern of strengths and weaknesses, rather than a pervasive lack of responsiveness to others. In children with language, this pattern is manifest as relatively well-developed phonological, syntactic, and semantic facilities, but impaired or deviant pragmatic capacities. In preverbal children, communication for instrumental or attachment functions may be observed, but joint attention, as well as other more purely socially oriented bids, are often lacking. Three neuropsychological models have been proposed that explicitly address elements of this pattern of social communication disturbance in autism. These models differ in the mechanisms of impairment proposed to explain the social-communication disturbance of autism. Nevertheless, these models converge to suggest that the specific pattern of social communication disturbance displayed in autism results from a dysfunction that involves frontal neurological processes. A discussion of the similarities and differences among these models is presented. In the final analysis, this discussion leads to two conclusions. First, it may be necessary to adopt a developmental and dynamic systems perspective to gain a complete understanding of the complexities of the social-communication pathology of autism. Second, the study of autism raises many important observations and hypotheses regarding the ontogeny of the quintessential human capacity for communication and social cognition.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Pages (from-to)343-349
Number of pages7
JournalMental Retardation and Developmental Disabilities Research Reviews
Issue number4
StatePublished - 1997
Externally publishedYes


  • Autism
  • Dynamic systems
  • Frontal neurological processes
  • Language
  • Preverbal communication

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • Genetics(clinical)
  • Pediatrics, Perinatology, and Child Health
  • Neuropsychology and Physiological Psychology


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