Syntactic abilities and verbal memory in monolingual and bilingual children with High Functioning Autism (HFA)

Natalia Meir, Rama Novogrodsky

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review


The aim of the current study was two-fold. First, it evaluated the influence of bilingualism on syntactic abilities and verbal memory of children with High Functioning Autism (HFA). Second, it explored the relationship between syntactic abilities and verbal memory of children with HFA and typical language development (TLD). Eighty-six monolingual Hebrew-speaking and bilingual Russian–Hebrew speaking children aged 4;6–9;2 years participated: 28 with HFA (14 monolingual and 14 bilingual) and 58 with TLD (28 monolingual and 30 bilingual). Syntactic abilities were assessed using Sentence Repetition tasks (bilingual children were tested in both languages). Verbal memory was evaluated using Forward Digit Span for verbal short-term memory and Backward Digit Span for verbal working memory. As a group, children with HFA scored lower than their TLD peers on measures of syntactic abilities and verbal memory. However, some children with HFA, monolingual and bilingual, showed intact syntactic abilities, while others scored at-risk for Language Disorder (LD). Importantly, syntactic abilities in children with HFA were not associated with their verbal memory skills. Furthermore, no differences in verbal memory were found between children with HFA who were at-risk for LD and children with no risk. Bilingualism did not influence Sentence Repetition scores when vocabulary was controlled for, and it did not affect verbal memory scores. The study demonstrated that (1) syntactic difficulties in children with HFA are not attributable to deficient verbal memory; moreover (2), regardless of languages status, children with HFA at-risk for LD exhibit impaired syntax similarly to those reported in the literature for children with Developmental Language Disorder. Finally, the findings show that bilingualism affects children with TLD and HFA similarly, demonstrating that bilingualism does not impede language and cognitive development in children with HFA.

Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)341-366
Number of pages26
JournalFirst Language
Issue number4
StatePublished - 1 Aug 2020

Bibliographical note

Publisher Copyright:
© The Author(s) 2019.


  • Autism
  • High Functioning Autism (HFA)
  • syntax
  • verbal short-term memory
  • verbal working memory

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • Education
  • Language and Linguistics
  • Linguistics and Language


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