Adaptation of Object Descriptions to a Partner Under Increasing Communicative Demands: A Comparison of Children With and Without Autism

ArticleinAutism Research 2(6):334-47 · December 2009with18 Reads
DOI: 10.1002/aur.102 · Source: PubMed
This study compared the object descriptions of school-age children with high-functioning autism (HFA) with those of a matched group of typically developing children. Descriptions were elicited in a referential communication task where shared information was manipulated, and in a guessing game where clues had to be provided about the identity of an object that was hidden from the addressee. Across these tasks, increasingly complex levels of audience design were assessed: (1) the ability to give adequate descriptions from one's own perspective, (2) the ability to adjust descriptions to an addressee's perspective when this differs from one's own, and (3) the ability to provide indirect yet identifying descriptions in a situation where explicit labeling is inappropriate. Results showed that there were group differences in all three cases, with the HFA group giving less efficient descriptions with respect to the relevant context than the comparison group. More revealing was the identification of distinct adaptation profiles among the HFA participants: those who had difficulty with all three levels, those who displayed Level 1 audience design but poor Level 2 and Level 3 design, and those demonstrated all three levels of audience design, like the majority of the comparison group. Higher structural language ability, rather than symptom severity or social skills, differentiated those HFA participants with typical adaptation profiles from those who displayed deficient audience design, consistent with previous reports of language use in autism.
    • "Other studies have reported on the importance of WM in perspective-taking in discourse [Horton & Gerrig, 2005b; Mutter, Alcorn, & Welsh, 2006]. Perspective-taking in ASD has been found to relate to WM skills [Reed, 2002], symptom severity [Dawson & Fernald, 1987], general cognition [Dahlgren & Sandberg, 2008], and language ability [Bodner, Minshew, & Williams, 2009; Nadig et al., 2009]. Eye-movement and accuracy data indicated that all participants were slower when required to integrate privileged information (i.e., when perspective-taking demands increased). "
    [Show abstract] [Hide abstract] ABSTRACT: Pragmatic language impairments are nearly universal in autism spectrum disorders (ASD). Discourse requires that we monitor information that is shared or mutually known, called "common ground." While many studies have examined the role of Theory of Mind (ToM) in such impairments, few have examined working memory (WM). Common ground impairments in ASD could reflect limitations in both WM and ToM. This study explored common ground use in youth ages 8-17 years with high-functioning ASD (n = 13) and typical development (n = 22); groups did not differ on age, gender, IQ, or standardized language. We tracked participants' eye movements while they performed a discourse task in which some information was known only to the participant (e.g., was privileged; a manipulation of ToM). In addition, the amount of privileged information varied (a manipulation of WM). All participants were slower to fixate the target when considering privileged information, and this effect was greatest during high WM load trials. Further, the ASD group was more likely to fixate competing (non-target) shapes. Predictors of fixation patterns included ASD symptomatology, language ability, ToM, and WM. Groups did not differ in ToM. Individuals with better WM fixated the target more rapidly, suggesting an association between WM capacity and efficient discourse. In addition to ToM knowledge, WM capacity constrains common ground representation and impacts pragmatic skills in ASD. Social impairments in ASD are thus associated with WM capacity, such that deficits in domain-general, nonsocial processes such as WM exert an influence during complex social interactions. Autism Res 2016. © 2016 International Society for Autism Research, Wiley Periodicals, Inc.
    Full-text · Article · Apr 2016
    • "This pattern of results, and the extreme variability observed in the structural language abilities of individuals with ASD, lead to a possible explanation for inconsistent findings: context sensitivity in language processing may be linked to structural language ability rather than being a cognitive processing style specific to ASD. Individuals with ASD with very high structural language have been shown to be sensitive to context in their default processing (Brock et al., 2008; Nadig, Vivanti, & Ozonoff, 2009; Norbury, 2005), challenging the universality of this potential marker. In addition, the specificity of reduced context sensitivity to ASD has been questioned given that other groups, e.g., children with primary language impairment, also face language comprehension difficulties in similar ways (Norbury and Bishop, 2002). "
    [Show abstract] [Hide abstract] ABSTRACT: We present two experiments examining the universality and uniqueness of reduced context sensitivity in language processing in Autism Spectrum Disorders (ASD), as proposed by the Weak Central Coherence account (Happé & Frith, 2006, Journal of Autism and Developmental Disorders, 36(1), 25). That is, do all children with ASD exhibit decreased context sensitivity, and is this characteristic specific to ASD versus other neurodevelopmental conditions? Experiment 1, conducted in English, was a comparison of children with ASD with normal language and their typically-developing peers on a picture selection task where interpretation of sentential context was required to identify homonyms. Contrary to the predictions of Weak Central Coherence, the ASD-normal language group exhibited no difficulty on this task. Experiment 2, conducted in German, compared children with ASD with variable language abilities, typically-developing children, and a second control group of children with Language Impairment (LI) on a sentence completion task where a context sentence had to be considered to produce the continuation of an ambiguous sentence fragment. Both ASD-variable language and LI groups exhibited reduced context sensitivity and did not differ from each other. Finally, to directly test which factors contribute to reduced context sensitivity, we conducted a regression analysis for each experiment, entering nonverbal IQ, structural language ability, and autism diagnosis as predictors. For both experiments structural language ability emerged as the only significant predictor. These convergent findings demonstrate that reduced sensitivity to context in language processing is linked to low structural language rather than ASD diagnosis.
    Full-text · Article · Feb 2016
    • "IQ is a global measure of cognitive ability but is not sensitive to core language and communication functions, leading to further heterogeneity in samples and possible inconsistencies between findings across studies (Dennis et al. 2009 ). A growing body of evidence indicates that various socio-communicative abilities and higher order tasks are linked to structural language ability, even in IQ-matched individuals with ASD (Rippon et al. 2007; Black et al. 2009; Nadig et al. 2009). Consequently, there exist a number of standardized neuropsychological tests that have been used to characterize language and communication abilities as distinct traits in children, both typically developing and those with developmental disorders (Condouris et al. 2003; Taylor et al. 2014). "
    [Show abstract] [Hide abstract] ABSTRACT: There is significant clinical heterogeneity in language and communication abilities of individuals with Autism Spectrum Disorders (ASD). However, no consistent pathology regarding the relationship of these abilities to brain structure has emerged. Recent developments in anatomical correlation-based approaches to map structural covariance networks (SCNs), combined with detailed behavioral characterization, offer an alternative for studying these relationships. In this study, such an approach was used to study the integrity of SCNs of cortical thickness and surface area associated with language and communication, in 46 high-functioning, school-age children with ASD compared with 50 matched, typically developing controls (all males) with IQ > 75. Findings showed that there was alteration of cortical structure and disruption of fronto-temporal cortical covariance in ASD compared with controls. Furthermore, in an analysis of a subset of ASD participants, alterations in both cortical structure and covariance were modulated by structural language ability of the participants, but not communicative function. These findings indicate that structural language abilities are related to altered fronto-temporal cortical covariance in ASD, much more than symptom severity or cognitive ability. They also support the importance of better characterizing ASD samples while studying brain structure and for better understanding individual differences in language and communication abilities in ASD.
    Article · Jan 2016
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