This study tested the hypothesis that pragmatic (i.e., social) language impairment is linked to arousal dysregulation in autism spectrum disorder (ASD) and fragile X syndrome (FXS). Forty boys with ASD, 39 with FXS, and 27 with typical development (TD), aged 4–15 years, participated. Boys with FXS were hyperaroused compared to boys with TD but did not differ from boys with ASD. Dampened vagal tone predicted pragmatic impairment in ASD, and associations emerged between cardiac activity and receptive/expressive vocabulary across groups. Findings support autonomic dysfunction as a mechanism underlying pragmatic impairment in ASD and suggest that biophysiological profiles are shared in ASD and FXS, which has implications for understanding the role of fragile X mental retardation-1 (FMR1, the FXS gene) in the pathophysiology of ASD.

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