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2015 Abstracts

Syntactic Complexity and Narrativ e Competence for Children with Autism Spectrum Disorder (ASD): Balancing Complexity with Content in Spontaneously Generated Stories

Mercedes Sanford, Ryan Pearson, Kate Summers, and Brigid Crotty, Utah State University


Deficits in complex syntax may not be apparent in stories that children with Autism Spectrum Disorders (ASD) create on their own. That is, in self-generated stories, complex syntactic forms are not obligatory in order to get the “message across.” However, in order to create complex stories, those that contain complicating actions and events, complex sentences are unavoidable. Although children with ASD have been said to have typical syntactic skills, it is possible, that this is due to a preference for syntactically simple utterances. The purpose of this study was to examine the syntactic complexity of stories created by 5 children with ASD as they participated in an intervention to improve their narrative skills. Stories were elicited once weekly from single scene picture prompts; recorded, transcribed and then coded for narrative proficiency and syntactic complexity. Results indicated that during baseline when children were not receiving instruction, their self-generated stories contained more simple sentences (75-100%) that contained one main verb as compared to complex sentences (0-25%) that contained two or more main verbs. Their narrative skills during baseline were judged to be below average. Over the course of instruction, children’s narrative skills and their use of complex sentences increased in a similar pattern. Individual differences were observed in the impact that this pattern of change had on children’s verbal fluency and grammaticality. These differences will be discussed in terms of a cognitive load hypothesis.