Parents' Strategies to Elicit Autobiographical Memories in Autism Spectrum, Language Impaired and Typically Developing Children
Parent-guided conversations about the past promote the development of autobiographical memory, defined as explicit memory of an event that occurred in a specific time and place in one’s life (Nelson & Fivush 2004). The expression of self is facilitated by narrative skills which evolve from joint reminiscing experiences -an inherently social activity- supported by shared minds, often lacking in children with Autism Spectrum Disorders (ASD). Parents are adapting their communicative styles based on their view of the child’s ability to participate actively. Prior research on personal narratives in children with ASD reported organizational difficulties and a focus on details (e.g., Goldman, 2008). Therefore, children with ASD may have difficulties maintaining meaningful conversations about personal events which in turn may affect parental input and verbal transactions. Here, we focused on parents’ strategies to guide their child’s recall and analyzed parents’ differing ways to enter into the discourse about the past.
To examine (1) negotiation among dyads regarding speaker/responder roles; (2) prevalence of directives versus elaborated questions and responses among the three groups; and (3) focus on enrichment of shared events versus memory accuracy during past event conversations among three diagnostic groups.
Parent-child conversations about autobiographical memories were recorded and coded for events, length, and speaking turn type in 11 high-functioning with ASD (HFA), 11 non-autistic with developmental language disorders (DLD), and 8 typically developing (TD) children matched for chronological age and non-verbal IQ. Analyses focused on (1) parent’s eliciting strategy and (2) child’s response choice. Speaking turns were coded as questions (direct or elaborate), responses (direct or elaborate), non-obligatory bids for participation (comments, acknowledgments or corrections), or unrelated/irrelevant utterances.
No significant differences between diagnostic groups were found for number of events, length of conversation, total turns taken, and number of turns taken by parent or child. Significant differences were found in speaking turn type. HFA parents used more direct questions than TD parents. Additionally, HFA and DLD parents used more corrections than TD parents. Lastly, HFA dyads used fewer comments than TD dyads, but more unrelated/irrelevant turns than both DLD and TD dyads.
Analysis of transactional conversations about the past provides an opportunity to examine the interplay between child’s communication deficits and parents’ input. As such, these results shed light onto parents’ strategies and their child’s response type. Specifically, HFA parents not only used more direct questions to elicit recall but also focused more on memory accuracy as opposed to TD parents who provided enrichment through elaboration. Parents of HFA and DLD children naturally adjusted their conversational style to their child’s communication difficulties and used these directive strategies to ensure successful verbal exchanges. Yet, these direct questions may put the emphasis on external and factual details rather than affect and a sense of self. These results should encourage parents to value meaningful personal conversation with their child, regardless of social or language difficulties, in order to strengthen their sense of self.