International Meeting for Autism Research: Communicative Repair Skills in Boys with Autism and Fragile X Syndrome

Communicative Repair Skills in Boys with Autism and Fragile X Syndrome

Thursday, May 20, 2010
Franklin Hall B Level 4 (Philadelphia Marriott Downtown)
9:00 AM
R. L. Cardwell , Frank Porter Graham Child Development Institute, UNC Chapel Hill, Chapel Hill, NC
G. E. Martin , Frank Porter Graham Child Development Institute, University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill, Chapel Hill, NC
M. Losh , Allied Health Sciences and Psychology, University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill, Chapel Hill, NC
Background: The ability to repair breakdowns in communication is highly important for children with language deficits, as communicative breakdowns are likely to occur due to phonological, grammatical, or pragmatic difficulties. There is some evidence that individuals with autism have difficulty repairing breakdowns in communication (Geller, 1998; Volden, 2004). Fragile X syndrome (FXS) is the most common known genetic cause of autism. Individuals with FXS also show difficulties in conversational discourse, which may be attributable to comorbid autism (Roberts et al., 2007), although repair skills have not been previously investigated in this population, and so comparisons between children with autism and FXS on this key aspect of pragmatic language are lacking.

Objectives: This study examined communicative repair skills of boys with autism and boys with FXS in order to identify potentially overlapping profiles in this aspect of pragmatic language.

Methods: A structured task tapping communicative repair ability was administered to boys with autism only (n=11), FXS with autism (FXS-A; n=12), and FXS only (FXS-O; n=15), as well as a group of younger typically developing controls (n=11). Boys were asked to describe a set of cartoon pictures. For predetermined pictures, the examiner initiated a stacked sequence of neutral requests for clarification (i.e., Huh?, What?, I didn’t understand) using procedures described by Brinton et al. (1986). Boys’ responses were coded for repair strategy used – no response, repetition, revision (e.g., changing word order), addition (of new information), and inappropriate (e.g., off-topic responses). 

Results: Statistical analyses controlled for nonverbal mental age and expressive vocabulary skills. Surprisingly, boys with FXS-A repaired the communicative breakdown by adding new information significantly more often than did boys with autism only (51% vs. 43%). Results also revealed many similarities across groups. For all groups, addition and repetition were the most common repair strategies used, with the other strategies occurring less often. Further, all groups varied repair strategies as the breakdown persisted. Finally, boys in all groups were more likely to respond inappropriately or not respond at all to repeated requests for clarification compared with the first request.

Conclusions: The similarity across groups in repair ability suggests that this aspect of pragmatic language may represent a relative strength for boys with autism and FXS. Findings also suggest that communication partners should limit neutral requests for clarification to one or two, since repeated requests may be met with inappropriate or no responses. We continue to examine communicative repair skills in our samples, and will be presenting data on additional children in each group.

See more of: Communication
See more of: Autism Symptoms