Gender Differences in Narrative Language in 10-Year-Olds with Autism Spectrum Disorder

Poster Presentation
Thursday, May 10, 2018: 11:30 AM-1:30 PM
Hall Grote Zaal (de Doelen ICC Rotterdam)
O. Conlon1, J. Volden1, I. M. Smith2, P. Szatmari3, P. Mirenda4, T. Vaillancourt5, C. Waddell6, L. Zwaigenbaum1, S. Georgiades7, T. Bennett8, E. Duku7, M. Elsabbagh9 and W. J. Ungar10, (1)University of Alberta, Edmonton, AB, Canada, (2)Dalhousie University / IWK Health Centre, Halifax, NS, CANADA, (3)Centre for Addiction and Mental Health, Toronto, ON, Canada, (4)University of British Columbia, Vancouver, BC, Canada, (5)University of Ottawa, Ottawa, ON, Canada, (6)Simon Fraser University, Vancouver, BC, Canada, (7)McMaster University, Hamilton, ON, Canada, (8)Offord Centre for Child Studies, McMaster University, Hamilton, ON, CANADA, (9)McGill University, Montreal, PQ, Canada, (10)University of Toronto / The Hospital for Sick Children, Toronto, ON, Canada
Background: Autism spectrum disorder (ASD), characterized by deficits in social communication (SC), is found in 4:1 M:F ratio. This ratio has sparked questions about whether girls present a more subtle symptom profile. Because competence in SC requires synchronous application of social, cognitive and linguistic skill, it is particularly vulnerable to subtle differences in functioning making appropriately sensitive assessment tools imperative. Narrative analysis provides one way to examine SC. Conlon et al. (2015) examined narrative performance of 8-year-old boys and girls with ASD, matched on age, NVIQ (WISC4 Perceptual Reasoning Index, boys M=94.00: girls M=94.08) and language. Girls produced narratives containing more of the salient story elements (Ideas SS) than boys on the Expression Reception and Recall of Narrative Instrument (ERRNI) (Bishop, 2004). Follow-up detailed transcript analysis revealed that girls made fewer pragmatic errors and enhanced their stories (e.g., added emotional terms) more than boys.

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.