Language alignment in children with an autism spectrum disorder

Hopkins, Zoë Louise (2016) Language alignment in children with an autism spectrum disorder. Doctoral thesis (PhD), University of Sussex.

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Abstract

This thesis examines language alignment in children with an autism spectrum disorder
(ASD), a neurodevelopmental disorder characterised by impaired social understanding and
poor communication skills. Alignment, the tendency for speakers to repeat one another’s
linguistic choices in conversation, promotes better communication and more satisfying
interactions (cf. e.g., Fusaroli et al., 2012). By corollary, deficits in alignment may adversely
affect both communicative and affective aspects of conversation. Across three studies, I
consider whether ASD children’s conversational deficits relate to disrupted patterns of
alignment, and explore the mechanisms underlying this.

In the first study, I adopt a corpus-based approach to show that syntactic alignment
effects are observable in ASD children’s ‘real-life’ conversations, not just in an
experimental context. The second study draws on research into the role of inhibitory
control in communicative perspective-taking (Nilsen & Graham, 2009) to show that lexical
alignment is not socially mediated in ASD. I develop this work in the third study, which
highlights how, for ASD children, conversation can be compromised when lexical
alignment is driven exclusively by priming mechanisms.

Taken together, these studies advance our understanding of conversational deficits in
ASD, and particularly how impaired social understanding affects ASD children’s language
processing in dialogue. I conclude that, while ASD children have intact alignment, reduced
social understanding may prevent them from ‘diverging’, which can be necessary to move a
conversation forward (Healey, Purver, & Howes, 2014). More broadly, the thesis addresses
questions of theoretical relevance to the study of alignment, by clarifying the contributions
of unmediated (i.e., priming) and socially mediated (i.e., audience design) mechanisms to
children’s alignment behaviour, both in ASD and typical development.

Item Type: Thesis (Doctoral)
Schools and Departments: School of Psychology > Psychology
Subjects: B Philosophy. Psychology. Religion > BF Psychology > BF0712 Developmental psychology Including infant psychology, child psychology, adolescence, adulthood
R Medicine > RJ Pediatrics > RJ0370 Diseases of children and adolescents > RJ0499 Mental disorders of children and adolescents. Child psychiatry. Child mental health services > RJ0506.A-Z Specific disorders. A-Z > RJ0506.A9 Autism. Infantile autism. Asperger's syndrome
Depositing User: Library Cataloguing
Date Deposited: 26 Apr 2016 10:50
Last Modified: 12 Sep 2018 07:05
URI: http://sro.sussex.ac.uk/id/eprint/60608

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