Gender Differences in Narrative Language in 10-Year-Olds with Autism Spectrum Disorder
Objectives: The current study examines the narratives of the same participants at age 10, to determine if gender differences persist.
Methods: Participants were 12 10-year old boys and 12 girls who had participated in Conlon et al. (2015). The ERRNI was administered. Current NVIQ and core language scores were not available, but Vineland Adaptive Behavior Scales-2, Communication SS were stable from age 8 to age 10 (ANOVA IV: Age, DV: VABS Comm SS, Boys F(1,10) = 0.637, p = 0.451, Girls: F(1,10) = 0.001, p = 0.977), as were ERRNI MLUw scores, a rough index of syntax (ANOVA IV: Age, DV: MLU, Boys: F(1,10) = 0.135, p = 0.725, Girls: F(1,10) = 2.50, p = 0.145). A coder, blinded to gender, analyzed the narrative transcripts for syntactic complexity, story macrostructure, pragmatic difficulties and semantic enhancement (e.g., mental state words) using a system modelled on Norbury, et.al. (2014). Preliminary results from four boys and four girls are presented.
Results: ANOVAs (IV: gender, DVs: ERRNI subscale SS) revealed significant gender differences on the Ideas SS, [F(1,22) =5.32 p=0.03, d=0.71], such that girls (M=85.29, SD=13.87) included more salient story elements than boys (M=75.41, SD=12.57). Significant differences were also found on the detailed transcript analysis; girls (M=0.28, SD=0.22) made fewer pragmatic errors (boys M=0.76, SD=0.21; F(1,6) = 9.72, p=0.02, d=2.23), semantically enhanced their narratives more (girls M=0.39, SD=0.07; boys M=0.09, SD=0.07; F(1,6) = 35.53, p=0.001, d=4.29), and used more complex syntax (girls M=0.33, SD=0.15; boys M=0.08, SD=0.04; F(1,6) = 10.72, p = 0.02, d=2.28). Girls also (M=0.33, SD=0.20) made fewer errors in sentence formulation (boys; M=0.73, SD=0.18; F(1,6) = 8.70, p=0.03, d=2.10).
Conclusions: ERRNI Ideas scores were significantly better in girls than boys, replicating the findings of Conlon et al (2015). Preliminary findings from detailed analysis on a subset (4 boys, 4 girls) indicate persistent gender differences in pragmatic errors and semantic enhancements, as previously found, and additional difficulties in syntax and sentence formulation in boys. Overall, the ERRNI captures broad but subtle SC differences between boys and girls with ASD. Detailed transcript analysis may help in understanding differences in SC in boys and girls with ASD.