Portrait of Dr Kirsten Abbot-Smith

Dr Kirsten Abbot-Smith

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


Key publications

  • 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   
  • Abbot-Smith, K., Williams, D. & Matthews, M. (2020). ‘What’s new for you?’ Interlocutor-specific perspective-taking and language interpretation in children with autism. Research in Autism Spectrum Disorders, 70. doi 10.1016/j.rasd.2019.101465 https://kar.kent.ac.uk/76759/ 
  • Malkin, L., Abbot-Smith, K., Williams, D., & Ayling, J. (2018) When do children with Autism Spectrum Disorder take common ground into account during communication? Autism Research 11, 1366-1375. doi: 10.1002/aur.2007 https://kar.kent.ac.uk/67544/
  • Abbot-Smith, K., Chang, F., Rowland, C., Ferguson, H., & Pine, J. (2017). Do two and three year old children use an incremental first-noun-as-agent bias to process active transitive and passive sentences?: A permutation analysis. PloSOneDOI: https://doi.org/10.1371/journal.pone.0186129

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. One key focus is how children learn to hold a back-and-forth conversation in an appropriate manner. Another focus is how children learn to tailor their language for specific conversation partners (referential communication). Some recent studies have also investigated how children learn to interpret verbal irony.


Kirsten teaches on:


Main supervisor

  • Lauren McGuinness: ESRC 3+1 

Second supervisor

Former supervisor

  • Louise Malkin: The social use of language in autistic children
  • Maria Zajaczkowska: The cognitive underpinnings of irony interpretation by children
  • Miriam Dittmar


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

Grants and Awards

Jun 2020 – Sep 2024 K 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
Apr 2020 – Mar 2022 K 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 2021 K Abbot-Smith
Psychology Seed Fund (Match Funding)
Factors associated with the quality of conversation skills in children with Autism Spectrum Disorder
Jan 2019 – Jan 2021 K 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 2018 K Abbot-Smith, D Williams (CI)
University of Kent Social Sciences Faculty Research Fund
What enables children to have good conversation skills?
Dec 2014 - Dec 2015 K 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
2013-2016 K 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
2011 K 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
2011 K Abbot-Smith
British Academy Grant to attend the 12th International Congress for the Study of Child Language
2010-12 K Abbot-Smith, C Rowland, J Pine
The role of the agent in sentence comprehension by preschool children
2010 K Abbot-Smith
Nufflield Foundation
Do children find it easier to learn verb meanings for ‘prototypically’ causative events?
2007-09 K Abbot-Smith
British Academy Small Grant
Interpretation of basic word order in Italian pre-school children

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