Idiom, Syntax, and Advanced Theory of Mind Abilities in Children With Autism Spectrum Disorders PurposeWhen researchers investigate figurative language abilities (including idioms) in children with autism spectrum disorder (ASD), syntax abilities may be more important than once considered. In addition, there are limitations to the overreliance on false-belief tasks to measure theory of mind (TOM) abilities. In the current study, the authors investigated idiom, ... Research Article
Research Article  |   February 01, 2014
Idiom, Syntax, and Advanced Theory of Mind Abilities in Children With Autism Spectrum Disorders
 
Author Affiliations & Notes
  • Elisabeth M. Whyte
    The Pennsylvania State University, University Park
  • Keith E. Nelson
    The Pennsylvania State University, University Park
  • K. Suzanne Scherf
    The Pennsylvania State University, University Park
  • Disclosure:The authors have declared that no competing interests existed at the time of publication.
    Disclosure:The authors have declared that no competing interests existed at the time of publication.×
  • Correspondence to Elisabeth M. Whyte: emv131@psu.edu
  • Editor: Janna Oetting
    Editor: Janna Oetting×
  • Associate Editor: Elizabeth Crais
    Associate Editor: Elizabeth Crais×
Article Information
Development / Special Populations / Autism Spectrum / Attention, Memory & Executive Functions / Language
Research Article   |   February 01, 2014
Idiom, Syntax, and Advanced Theory of Mind Abilities in Children With Autism Spectrum Disorders
Journal of Speech, Language, and Hearing Research, February 2014, Vol. 57, 120-130. doi:10.1044/1092-4388(2013/12-0308)
History: Received September 25, 2012 , Revised January 11, 2013 , Accepted April 25, 2013
 
Journal of Speech, Language, and Hearing Research, February 2014, Vol. 57, 120-130. doi:10.1044/1092-4388(2013/12-0308)
History: Received September 25, 2012; Revised January 11, 2013; Accepted April 25, 2013
Web of Science® Times Cited: 9

PurposeWhen researchers investigate figurative language abilities (including idioms) in children with autism spectrum disorder (ASD), syntax abilities may be more important than once considered. In addition, there are limitations to the overreliance on false-belief tasks to measure theory of mind (TOM) abilities. In the current study, the authors investigated idiom, syntax, and advanced TOM abilities in children with ASD compared to children with typical development (TD).

MethodTwenty-six children with ASD, ages 5 to 12 years, were compared to individuals in each of 2 control groups of children with TD: 1 matched on chronological age and nonverbal IQ, and 1 matched on syntax age-equivalence and raw scores. Idiom comprehension, syntax, vocabulary, and 2 measures of advanced TOM abilities were examined.

ResultsAlthough children with ASD performed worse on idiom comprehension compared to the age-matched group with TD, they exhibited comparable idiom performance to the syntax-matched group with TD. Advanced TOM abilities were related to idiom comprehension for children with ASD, but not for children with TD, above the contributions of basic language abilities.

ConclusionSyntax abilities should be used as a matching variable when examining figurative or other late-developing language skills.

Acknowledgments
We thank several research assistants for their help in data collection for this study, including Caitlin Hall, Katherine Hansen, Jeffrey Krystek, and Tyler Naill. We also thank the study families who made this research possible. A Penn State Liberal Arts dissertation improvement award to the first author provided funding for this project.
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