Portrait of Dr Kirsten Abbot-Smith

Dr Kirsten Abbot-Smith

Reader in Developmental Psychology
Co-Director of Kent Child Development Unit


Key publications

  • Malkin, L. & Abbot-Smith, K. (2021) Short report: how set switching affects the use of context-appropriate language by autistic and neuro-typical children. Autism, 25(8): 2418-2422. doi:10.1177/13623613211012860
  • Abbot-Smith, K. (2020). Language disorders and autism: implications for usage-based theories of language development. In C. Rowland, B. Ambridge, A. Theakston & K. Twomey (Eds.). Current perspectives on child language acquisition: how children use their environment to learn. Trends in Language Acquisition Research. Pp. 287–321 John Benjamins. doi.org/10.1075/tilar 
  • Goldberg, A. & Abbot-Smith, K. (2021). The constructionist approach offers a useful lens on language learning in autistic individuals. Language, 97(3): e169-e183 doi: 10.1353/lan.2021.0035
  • Zajączkowska, M. & Abbot-Smith, K.  (2020). ‘Sure I’ll help – I’ve just been sitting around doing nothing at school all day”: cognitive flexibility and child irony interpretation Journal of Experimental Child Psychology, 199 (Nov) doi: 10.1016/j.jecp.2020.104942   

Research interests

Dr Kirsten Abbot-Smith's main current research interest concerns how typically-developing and autistic children learn pragmatics; that is, how language is used and interpreted in a contextually appropriate manner for the purpose of social interaction. Her main focus is on how children learn to hold a back-and-forth conversation in an appropriate manner. She is also interested in developing interventions and classroom-based strategies to help children improve their conversational ability. Another research interest is how children learn to tailor their language for specific conversation partners (referential communication).


In 2022-2023, Kirsten is module convenor for:

  • PSYC5800: Advanced Developmental Psychology (3rd Year)
  • PSYC6330: Applying Psychology (3rd Year)

In 2022-2023 Kirsten is teaching on:

  • PSYC3020: Introduction to Social and Developmental Psychology (1st Year)
  • PSYC5280: Child Development (2nd Year)
  • PSYC5800: Advanced Developmental Psychology (3rd Year)
  • PSYC6330: Applying Psychology (3rd Year)
  • PSYC8510: Advanced Cognitive Development (MSc)


Kirsten has grant funding to fully fund (fees and living allowance) a three-year PhD studentship as part of a project entitled 'The cognitive constraints on children's manage a conversation topic".

This studentship is suitable for applicants who have or will completed a Master’s degree or equivalent to high merit or distinction level in either Psychology, Psycholinguistics, Cognitive Science or Human Communication Sciences by September 2023.

The studentship will primarily focus on how children manage topic-switching and task-switching and how this relates to behaviours commonly classed in the category of ‘Repetitive Behaviours and Restricted Interests’ (RRBIs). Please email for further information.

Apply here.

Current PhD students:

First supervisor

Second supervisor

Past PhD students:

  • Louise Malkin (first supervisor): The social use of language in autistic children
  • Maria Zajaczkowska (first supervisor): The cognitive underpinnings of irony interpretation by children
  • Nera Bozin (second supervisor)
  • Katie Carpenter (second supervisor)
  • Julia Landsiedel (second supervisor)
  • Aimilia Kallitsounaki (second supervisor)


  • Associate Editor, First Language (from January 2017)
  • Board Member, Autism and Developmental Language Impairments
  • ESRC Peer Review College

Grants and Awards

Oct 2021 – Jan 2026K Abbot-Smith (PI), S Leekam (CI), M Forrester (CI) and D Matthews (CI)Leverhulme Trust
The cognitive constraints on children’s ability to manage a conversation topic
£328, 544
Jan – July 2021K Abbot-Smith
"Teaching teachers to teach conversation" HSS Division Seed Fund
Sept 2020 – Aug 2022K Abbot-Smith (PI), M Forrester (CI) and D Matthews (CI)
British Academy
Impact of speech rate and cognitive load on children’s conversational ability
Jan 2019 – Jan 2021K Abbot-Smith
Psychology Seed Fund (Match Funding)
Factors associated with the quality of conversation skills in children with Autism Spectrum Disorder
Jan 2019 – Jan 2021K Abbot-Smith
Kent Health Strategic Research Development Fund
Factors associated with the quality of conversation skills in children with Autism Spectrum Disorder
Jul 2017 - Jul 2018K Abbot-Smith, D Williams (CI)
University of Kent Social Sciences Faculty Research Fund
What enables children to have good conversation skills?
Dec 2014 - Dec 2015K Abbot-Smith, D Williams (CI)University of Kent Social Sciences Faculty Research Fund
The role of social shared experience in how typically-developing children and children with ASD interpret linguistic requests
2013-2016K Abbot-Smith, C Floccia (PI), A Cattani (Plymouth), J Goslin (Plymouth), L White (Plymouth), K Plunkett (Oxford), C Rowland (Liverpool), A Krott (Birmingham), D Mills (Bangor)
ESRC (via University of Plymouth)
Lexicon development in bilingual toddlers
2011K Abbot-Smith
University of Kent Social Sciences Faculty Research Fund
Relative action salience: when three-year-olds can and can’t learn words for actions
2011K Abbot-Smith
British Academy Grant to attend the 12th International Congress for the Study of Child Language
2010-12K Abbot-Smith, C Rowland, J Pine
The role of the agent in sentence comprehension by preschool children
2010K Abbot-Smith
Nufflield Foundation
Do children find it easier to learn verb meanings for ‘prototypically’ causative events?
2007-09K Abbot-Smith
British Academy Small Grant
Interpretation of basic word order in Italian pre-school children
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