Reduced sensitivity to context in language comprehension: A characteristic of Autism Spectrum Disorders or of poor structural language ability?
Research in Developmental Disabilities
We present two experiments examining the universality and uniqueness of reduced context sensitivity in language processing in Autism Spectrum Disorders (ASD), as proposed by the Weak Central Coherence account (Happé & Frith, 2006, Journal of Autism and Developmental Disorders, 36(1), 25). That is, do all children with ASD exhibit decreased context sensitivity, and is this characteristic specific to ASD versus other neurodevelopmental conditions? Experiment 1, conducted in English, was a
... on of children with ASD with normal language and their typically-developing peers on a picture selection task where interpretation of sentential context was required to identify homonyms. Contrary to the predictions of Weak Central Coherence, the ASD-normal language group exhibited no difficulty on this task. Experiment 2, conducted in German, compared children with ASD with variable language abilities, typically-developing children, and a second control group of children with Language Impairment (LI) on a sentence completion task where a context sentence had to be considered to produce the continuation of an ambiguous sentence fragment. Both ASD-variable language and LI groups exhibited reduced context sensitivity and did not differ from each other. Finally, to directly test which factors contribute to reduced context sensitivity, we conducted a regression analysis for each experiment, entering nonverbal IQ, structural language ability, and autism diagnosis as predictors. For both experiments structural language ability emerged as the only significant predictor. These convergent findings demonstrate that reduced sensitivity to context in language processing is linked to low structural language rather than ASD diagnosis.