What's Your Story: Narrative Language and Cognition Among School-Aged Children with ASD

Friday, May 16, 2014
Atrium Ballroom (Marriott Marquis Atlanta)
G. Greco1, C. Sonners2, N. Nayudu3 and S. Faja3, (1)Department of Psychology, University of Washington, Seattle, WA, (2)Neuroscience, University of Washington, Seattle, WA, (3)University of Washington, Seattle, WA
Background: Among individuals diagnosed with autism spectrum disorder (ASD), a delay or diminishment of the development of language and communication is a core feature of the disorder.  Children with ASD also have more difficulty with tasks used to measure verbal working memory when compared to typically developing individuals (e.g., Gabig, 2008; Joseph et al., 2005), though findings have been mixed (e.g., Williams et al., 2005). Among typically developing children, one aspect of language that may be particularly related to verbal working memory is narrative ability (Gabig, 2008). Previous work has shown that verbal working memory relates to communication skills in children with ASD (Joseph et al, 2004). Although research has documented differences in the narrative ability of children with ASD (Capps, Losh, & Thurber, 2003), there have been no studies that have examined the role of working memory in the narratives of children with ASD.

Objectives: To explore whether parent report of narrative ability differed between children with ASD and children with typical development (TD). To evaluate whether groups differed on an observational measure of narrative ability. To investigate whether narrative ability corresponds to working memory (WM) within the group with ASD.  

Methods: Data collection is ongoing with data currently available for 66 children. Participants are 6 to 11 year-olds with ASD and TD – all with average or above average IQ. Working memory was measured using the Children’s Memory Scale Numbers subtest and by parent report from the Behavioral Rating Inventory of Executive Function (BRIEF). Composites of individual items related to narrative ability were created for both the Expressive and Interpersonal Relationships (IR) subtests of the Vineland-II parent interview. Narrative ability is also being coded from a speech sample obtained during the Autism Diagnostic Observation Schedule using Reilly, Klima, and Bellugi’s (1991) narrative coding scheme. 

Results: Preliminary results showed that groups differed on the Vineland Expressive composite, t(63)= -6.64, p < .001, Vineland IR composite, t(63)= -6.29, p < .001, a combination of both Vineland composites, t(63)= -7.00, p < .001, and BRIEF WM, t(60)= 5.57, p < .001, though no differences were found with CMS scores. This suggests that there are differences in narrative ability between the two groups, though results about working memory are mixed. Among children with ASD, BRIEF WM scores related to the Vineland Expressive composite, r(34) = -.40, p = .02. No correlation was found between CMS scores and any of the Vineland composites. Results of behavioral coding and the relation between observed narrative ability and cognitive function will also be presented. 

Conclusions: Children with ASD differed from those with TD on Vineland composite measures of narrative and on parent report of working memory, but not during a behavioral working memory task. Among the group with ASD, preliminary results provide some evidence for a relation between working memory and narrative ability. Behavioral coding will provide a richer analysis of narrative ability and, therefore, may provide additional information about the relation of working memory to narrative abilities.