The Association between Narrative Language and Social Perception in Children with Autism Spectrum Disorder (ASD) and with Typical Development (TD)
Narration is essential for effective communication. Efficient narration and storytelling requires linguistic and social-cognitive skills, such as emotion recognition and understanding listener´s and story character´s minds. Children with autism spectrum disorder (ASD) have challenges in all above mentioned areas (Baixauli et al., 2016; Loukusa et al., 2014).
This study explores the associations between narrative language and social perception abilities in children with ASD and their typically developing (TD) peers. Even though narratives have been widely investigated, surprisingly little is known about the connections between narration and social perception. It could be assumed that narration requires social perception skills, since listener’s needs in a given context should be acknowledged in order to produce a coherent and informative story.
Sixteen high-functioning children with ASD (aged 5;1–10;7 years; mean age 7;7) and 16 children with TD (aged 5;2–10;0 years; mean age 7;5) participated in this study. Children with ASD were carefully diagnosed by child psychiatrists or child neurologists using ICD-10 criteria based on ADI-R, ADOS and other investigations by a multiprofessional team in Oulu University Hospital in Finland. The Edmonton Narrative Norms Instrument (ENNI, story A3), which is a picture-based story generation task, was used for narrative elicitation. Children’s stories were analyzed for story grammar (SG), based on ENNI manual (Schneider, Dubé & Hayward, 2005). SG measures the informativeness and the hierarchical organization of the story. In addition, children’s social perception abilities were evaluated with NEPSY-II subtests of Affect Recognition and Theory of Mind (ToM) (Korkman, Kirk & Kemp, 2008).
Children with ASD produced stories that contained less information measured by SG than did TD children. Moreover, compared to TD children, children with ASD had lower scores in both NEPSY-II subtests. In ASD group, we found a moderate positive association between SG and the Affect Recognition and non-significant association between SG and ToM. In TD children, there were no significant associations between SG and NEPSY-II subtests.
Children with ASD showed difficulties in narration, emotion recognition and in ToM. Emotion recognition and SG seem to be associated in ASD. This is plausible, since, for example, characters’ emotional reactions are measured in SG, which support the idea of interplay between emotional understanding and narrative practice in ASD. In this study we did not find association between SG and ToM. Picture-based storytelling, which concentrates mostly on the actions in stories may not be connected with ToM. The role of ToM in picture-based narration should be critically considered in future studies.