Teaching grammar to kids with ASD—How explicit should we be?


We know that the language skills of children with autism spectrum disorder (ASD) vary… a lot. While some children are impaired across all language domains, others have weaknesses in just a few. For example, one subgroup of children with ASD have a relative weakness in grammar compared to the other domains. For kids with impairments in grammar, it is common practice to use an implicit intervention approach.

Perhaps you use implicit strategies with your clients? Do you show them pictures, model, and provide corrective feedback and recasts (e.g., “That’s right! The dog is running!”)? These are all implicit (you’re basically bombarding the child with correct productions and hoping that it sticks). Sometimes, though, you might feel that implicit isn’t enough. With some of your clients, do you ever find it helpful to explicitly provide the grammatical rule that you’re working on (e.g., we add -ing because it’s an action word)?

The authors of this study wanted to see whether adding an explicit component to intervention would be advantageous for children with ASD*. Seventeen children with ASD (ages 4–10) were taught two novel grammatical forms by either a combined explicit–implicit approach or an implicit-only approach. The combined approach differed in one way—the rule was described to the kids during intervention, which ended up being advantageous. More children learned the rules and used the novel forms during the combined explicit–implicit approach compared to the implicit-only approach.  

So if you’re working with kids with ASD with grammatical weaknesses, should you present the rules during intervention? At this point, it’s worth a try. The authors did question the generalizability of the results because the sample in the study was not very diverse (all subjects were verbal with mild-moderate ASD); so while the explicit component could be helpful for some of your students, it’s important to keep this limitation in mind.

*Got deja vu? We’ve reviewed another study from this lab on explicit grammar intervention before, but that one looked at children with developmental language disorders (DLD).  This study extends those findings to a new population!


Bangert, K. J., Halverson, D. M., & Finestack, L. H. (2019). Evaluation of an explicit instructional approach to teach grammatical forms to children with low-symptom severity Autism Spectrum Disorder. American Journal of Speech–Language Pathology. doi:10.1044/2018_AJSLP-18-0016