Linguistic Markers in the Narratives of Children on the Autism Spectrum

Poster Presentation
Thursday, May 10, 2018: 11:30 AM-1:30 PM
Hall Grote Zaal (de Doelen ICC Rotterdam)
K. F. Schroeder1,2, M. García1,2, J. Rosselló Ximenes1,2 and W. Hinzen2,3, (1)General Linguistics, University of Barcelona, Barcelona, Spain, (2)Grammar and Cognition Lab, Barcelona, Spain, (3)Catalan Institute for Advanced Studies and Research (ICREA), Barcelona, Spain
Background: Narratives are ecological means to elicit speech in clinical populations- both to assess formal aspects of language as well as how language construes a shared reality of agents and events. While narrative skills are assessed in diagnostic measures such as the Autism Diagnostic Observational Schedule (ADOS), the language which builds these narratives rarely receives analysis. Previous literature on narratives in autism spectrum conditions (ASC) have shown that referential anomalies distinguish children with ASC from clinical groups like ADHD or typically-developing peers [1, 2] and may relate to ASC symptom severity [3]. However, this previous work has not looked at reference fully systematically.

Objectives: In the present study, we catalogue referential constructions and errors though a linguistic lens and explore the relation between qualitative deficits in narratives and specific grammatical profiles.

Methods: Fifteen children with high-functioning ASC (mean age: 8.6, range: 7-12 years) and fifteen typically-developing controls who were individually matched on verbal-IQ and chronological age participated in the storybook narration task of the ADOS. Narratives were transcribed and annotated for various grammatical constructions across nominal, verbal, and clausal domains. Narratives were further rated for story completeness and errors were catalogued.

Results: Our results showed that our ASC population didn’t differ from controls on errors (all p ≥ .325). However, we found significant differences in the way in which the narratives were built- primarily with regard to a reduction of anaphoric devices (p = .003) and relative clauses (p =.011) in the ASC group. The proportional reduction of anaphora correlated to lower overall story completeness and quality across groups (r=.514; p =.004).

Conclusions: These results show that even at the high-functioning end of the spectrum and controlling for verbal IQ, linguistic markers based on fine-grained grammatical measures can detect ASC against typically developing controls.


[1] Banney, R., Harper-Hill, K., & Arnott, W., (2015). The autism diagnostic observation schedule and narrative assessment: evidence for specific narrative impairments in autism spectrum disorders. International Journal of Speech-Language Pathology 17 (2), 159-171.

[2] Rumpf, A. L., Kamp-Becker, I., Becker, K., Kauschke, C. (2012). Narrative competence and internal state language of children with Asperger Syndrome and ADHD. Research in Developmental Disabilities 33, 1395-1407.

[3] Suh, J., Eigsti, I.M., Naigles, L., Barton, M., Kelly, E., Fein, D. (2014). Narrative performance of optimal outcome children and adolescents with a history of an autism spectrum disorder (ASD). Journal of Autism and Developmental Disorders 44, 1681-1694.