Repository logo

The importance of verbal language in the development of social understanding in autistic children



Change log


Melville, Kyleigh Marie Kai-Li  ORCID logo


Language has been identified as a significant factor for long-term cognitive, social and adaptive outcomes, such as social understanding. The relationship between verbal language and social understanding has been widely explored in typically developing children. However, the same could not be said for the relationship between verbal language and social understanding in autism. To fill this gap, the following literature review evaluated studies which have employed nonverbal measures to investigate the impact of an absence of verbal language on the development of social understanding in autistic children. Nonverbal measures were used to explore how autistic children attend to and process nonverbal language and social cues such as facial expressions, eye gaze and biological motion. Across the reviewed literature, it was strongly hypothesised that autistic children depend more heavily on verbal language to bring attention and meaning to nonverbal cues they would otherwise miss. Limitations of the reviewed studies were further discussed. Future research investigating this relationship would benefit from discarding a deficit model of autism and instead employing a humanistic perspective which can lend a holistic understanding. In addition, the use of qualitative methods in the form of semi-structured interviews can encourage more participants from under-represented subgroups on the spectrum (i.e., minimally and nonverbal autistic females) to feel empowered in sharing their unique experiences.



Autism, Social Understanding, Verbal Language, Theory of Mind, Nonverbal Measures

Journal Title

Conference Name

Journal ISSN


Volume Title


CERJ, Faculty of Education, University of Cambridge

Publisher DOI

Publisher URL