Comprehension of Interrogative Sentences in Autism Spectrum Disorder

Poster Presentation
Thursday, May 10, 2018: 11:30 AM-1:30 PM
Hall Grote Zaal (de Doelen ICC Rotterdam)
E. Vila Borrellas1, J. Rosselló Ximenes1 and W. Hinzen2,3,4, (1)General Linguistics, University of Barcelona, Barcelona, Spain, (2)Department of Translation and Language Sciences, Universitat Pompeu Fabra, Barcelona, Spain, (3)FIDMAG Germanes Hospitalaries. Research Foundation Benito Menni Hospital, Sant Boi de Llobregat, Spain, (4)Catalan Institute for Advanced Studies and Research (ICREA), Barcelona, Spain
Background: Individuals with Autism Spectrum Disorder (ASD) have difficulties to initiate and follow a conversation and respect turn-taking. Despite the importance of asking and answering questions for social interaction, how ASD individuals comprehend the language structures involved in them has been understudied. Prosody on the other hand has a role in shaping questions to the point that there are languages such as Spanish where yes/no questions differ from declaratives only prosodically. As for wh questions, ASD children understand them much later than typically developing (TD) children (Goodwin et al., 2012), They are also more difficult to answer than yes/no ones (Oi, 2010; Oi and Tanaka, 2011). The difficulty in answering wh questions in ASD should be clarified since the assessment of the understanding of false-belief (Sally-Anne task) and other explicit Theory of Mind (ToM) experiments is usually made through wh questions.

Objectives: Study the comprehension of different types of questions in ASD and establish the role of visual support and ToM on it.

Methods: In this study, we examined the comprehension of wh and yes/no questions through visual and non-visual tasks, with and without false-belief content. We selected 16 high-functioning ASD children from 7 to 12 years old (mean = 10.03 years old). All of them were Spanish-Catalan bilingual with Spanish dominance. They were individually matched by verbal mental age with a group of children in the same age range (mean= 9.79 years old).

Results: No significant differences were found between the TD and the ASD group. The ASD and the TD have greater difficulties to answer wh rather than yes/no questions. In addition, both groups performed better in Non-ToM than ToM tasks and in those with visual support.

Conclusions: High-functioning ASD children did not show significant difficulties to understand interrogative sentences compared to their neurotypical peers. ASD and TD showed a greater level of understanding yes/no rather than wh questions. Moreover, both groups show that visual support helps to a better question comprehension. Questions involved in ToM tasks are not only more demanding to comprehend for ASD but also for typically developing children.