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Auteur: Yhara FORMISANO

Implicit meaning comprehension in autism spectrum disorders

Abstract/Résumé: This study examines implicit meaning understanding in adolescents and adults along the spectrum of autistic disorders (ASD). Previous experimental findings (Surian et al. 1996; Dennis et al. 2001; Lokusa et al. 2007; among others) agree on the fact that this clinical population is characterized by a general inferential disability and, specifically, an inability to comprehend implicated and presupposed meanings. ASD people have been found to be impaired in recognizing speakers' communicative intention. A disruption of this skill appears to be a plausible explanation for the different linguistic impairments characteristic of autistic conditions. The focus of the research was to investigate the understanding of communicative intentions linked to implicit meanings (IMs) comprehension and to find out which kind of IMs is more difficult considering the variable of context dependence. The test is made up of PowerPoint™ slides with pictures or videos followed by True/False questions that test subjects on their understanding of different IMs. Videos were included so as to provide subjects with all the contextual clues necessary for IMs understanding. Results confirmed the hypothesis, based on previous research findings, of a proportionality between context dependence and processing difficulty on the part of ASD people compared to a group of typically developing individuals. Nonetheless, it should be highlighted that results of this study correspond to previous research findings qualitatively but not quantitatively. In 88% of the cases (compared to 99% of the people in the control group), ASD people were able to adequately interpret implicit meanings. This quantitative difference could be explainable in terms of testing methodology. Including videos for items testing implicatures seems to have fostered implicit meaning understanding giving contextual clues their due value. Future research is needed to confirm the hypothesis deriving from these findings that testing clinical populations with more pragmatically adequate testing methodologies results in clearer accounts of impairments of specific skills. References Dennis, M., Lazenby, A.L., Lokyer, L. (2002). Inferential language in high function children with autism. Journal of Autism and Developmental Disorders 31(1), 47 -54. Lokusa, S., Leinonen, E., Kuusikko, S., Jussila, K., Mattila, M.L., Ryder, N., Ebeling, H., Moilanen, I. (2007). Use of Context in Pragmatic Language Comprehension by Children with Asperger syndrome or High-Functioning Autism. Journal of Autism and Developmental Disorders 37(6), 1049-1059. Surian, L., Baron-Cohen, S., Van der Lely, H. (1996). Are children with autism deaf to gricean maxims? Cognitive Neuropsychiatry 1, 55-71.