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Understanding Metaphor Understanding in Autism

Thursday, 2 May 2013: 14:00-18:00
Banquet Hall (Kursaal Centre)
L. Brown1, N. Katsos2 and K. Plaistead Grant1, (1)Department of Psychology, Laboratory for Research into Autism, University of Cambridge, Cambridge, United Kingdom, (2)Department of Theoretical and Applied Linguistics, University of Cambridge, Cambridge, United Kingdom

It is often reported that even the most verbally able people with autism, i.e. those who display no deficiencies in terms of their verbal intelligence and formal linguistic knowledge, show impairments in the pragmatic use of that knowledge. Despite its prominence, the pragmatic profile in autism is relatively underexplored and not well defined or understood. Research in this area has repeatedly focused on a small range of figurative language types, with numerous studies highlighting a universal deficit in metaphor understanding.

However, despite the vast literature surrounding metaphor typology, relating it to conceptual development and noting it as a key factor affecting metaphor comprehension, in research examining individuals with ASD, these differences between metaphor have received little and inconsistent attention.


To critically review and expand on the understanding of metaphor comprehension in ASD, particularly by acknowledging and incorporating more linguistic literature regarding metaphor typology and assessment. We aim to link psychological and linguistic explanations and address why this is important.


We present a critical overview and analysis of current literature addressing metaphoric comprehension in autism spectrum disorders, approached from both psychological and linguistic perspectives. 


From reviewing recent studies, across multiple sites, using diverse methods, and participants of different autism subtypes, ages, and cognitive levels, it appears difficult to assert any systematic comparison in metaphoric comprehension ability in ASD. Further inconsistencies in linguistic definitions of metaphor typology and assessment tasks and methods result in varying metaphoric comprehension ability profiles. Wider analysis of current literature will be presented.


To advance the field, experimental measures will benefit from a more interdisciplinary approach; combining psychological and linguistic explanations and methodologies may offer more systematic explanation of the pragmatic difficulties in this population. The implementation of combining these experimental frameworks will be discussed.

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