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The atypical pattern of irony comprehension in children with high-functioning autism
Greta Mazzaggio, Francesca Foppolo, Beatrice Giustolisi, Luca Surian, 2018, published scientific conference contribution abstract

Abstract: Irony comprehension is a complex task that typically developing (TD) children reach around the age of six. Some scholars (Sullivan et al., 1995 a.o.) claimed that 2nd order Theory of Mind (ToM) skills are required to understand irony, but also linguistic abilities (which predict ToM development: Milligan, Astington & Dack, 2007) play a role (Filippova & Astington, 2008; Bosco & Gabbatore, 2017). Children with high-functioning autism (HFA) have intact linguistic abilities, but impaired social relations. Some children with ASD pass even 2nd order ToM tasks, even if they could be using compensatory verbalizing strategies (Fisher, Happé & Dunn, 2005; Happé, 1995; Tager-Flusberg, 2000). We tested irony comprehension in HFA children with the aim to assess the contribution of the factors that may facilitate it and disentangle their relationships. We analyzed responses to the key question to understand irony, i.e. questions on speaker’s meaning and attitude. HFA children showed a peculiar pattern: their accuracy on literal stories was at ceiling, demonstrating that they understood the task, but in irony comprehension they lag behind their TD peers matched for age and non-verbal IQ. Even if this result was not unexpected, given the impairment in social communication associated to HFA, our group of 26 HFA showed a somehow surprising bimodal distribution. Moreover, differently from the TD group, accuracy on ironic stories did not depend neither on age nor on (non-)verbal IQ in HFA participants. And conversely ToM skills played a significant role in irony understanding only for HFA children, and not for TD children.In order to account for these data, we can hypothesize that – in general – HFA children show an impairment in pragmatic inference abilities and in ToM abilities (see Loukusa & Moilanen, 2009 and Baron-Cohen, 2000 for a review), as found also in our sample of LP children. The HP children, on the other hand, might adopt a strategy, different from TD children, to respond correctly to ironic stories, as suggested by Wang et al. (2006). Interestingly, Pexman et al. (2011) found that HFA children, who did not differ in accuracy with respect to TD controls, applied a different processing strategy for irony comprehension, and hypothesized that they resort to a more rule-based strategy, with an intellectual-style approach to compensate their social deficits. Our bimodal distribution could then identify two classes of HFA participants: the LP ones correspond to the pragmatic-impaired profile of HFA, the HP ones on the other hand could be using a compensatory strategy, since they could have been trained to recognize irony and/or other persons’ states of mind (ToM) during speech therapy sessions, as reported in Persicke et al. (2013). Future research should investigate this hypothesis more in depth, with a longitudinal study of HFA participants after a training in irony comprehension, in ToM metarepresentational abilities, and without training.
Found in: ključnih besedah
Summary of found: ...autism developmental disorder, theory of mind, IQ, experimental pragamtics...
Keywords: irony processing, autism developmental disorder, theory of mind, IQ, experimental pragamtics
Published: 21.09.2021; Views: 107; Downloads: 4
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