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Luyster’s Research Shows ‘Focused Interests’ Support Autistic Children’s Language Development

Communication Sciences & Disorders Associate Professor Rhiannon Luyster co-authored a new paper that suggests focused interests do not necessarily interfere with learning unrelated vocabulary in autistic preschoolers.

The paper, “Do focused interests support word learning? A study with autistic and nonautistic children” was published in Autism Research, the official journal of The International Society for Autism Research.

The study is noteworthy as it takes a different approach than other studies, with the research team concluding that leveraging an autistic child’s “focused interests” can actually support the child’s early language development.

According to the National Autistic Society, “many autistic people have intense and highly-focused interests, often from a fairly young age. These can change over time or be lifelong.” Art, music, gardening, postcodes, numbers, transportation such as trains and buses, are all common focused interests. Thomas the Tank Engine, dinosaurs, or particular cartoon characters, are also examples for young children.

Throughout her career, Luyster has conducted extensive research on language development among children—especially those with autism spectrum disorder. Currently on leave, she is building upon that work with a 5-year, $1.67 million grant from the National Institutes of Health that she received in 2020.

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