Dr Kirsten Abbot-Smith

Reader (= Associate Professor) in Developmental Psychology,
Research Excellence Framework Coordinator for Psychology
+44 (0)1227 823016
Dr Kirsten Abbot-Smith


Dr Kirsten Abbot-Smith specialises in child social communicative and oral language development, with a particular focus on development in autistic children. 

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 2023-2024, Kirsten is module convenor for:

  • PSYC5800: Advanced Developmental Psychology (3rd Year)
  • PSYC6160 Language and Communication    


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)
  • ESRC Peer Review College

Grants and Awards

Jan 2024 – Jan 2026Abbot-Smith (PI), Sturrock (CI), Matthews (CI), Bannard (CI), Dockrell (CI)"Developing a classroom intervention to improve conversation skills in primary schools." Nuffield Foundation£186,862
Oct 2021 – Sept 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" Leverhulme Trust
£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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