The comprehension of passives in Autism Spectrum Disorder

Abstract

This study investigates the comprehension of passives in children with Autism Spectrum Disorder (ASD). Subsets of children with ASD have been previously found to present linguistic profiles reminiscent of Specific Language Impairment (SLI), a condition including difficulties with certain constructions displaying noncanonical word orders. However, research on one such construction, passives, is sparse and remains inconclusive. Furthermore, studies on typical development of passives in French are lacking. Twenty French-speaking children with ASD (mean age 9;3), including children with both normal and delayed nonverbal levels, were compared to 20 age-matched typically-developing (TD) children and to 65 younger TD children split into groups of children aged 4–5, 6–7 and 8–9 years. Various passive types were assessed via a sentence-picture matching task: eventive versus psychological, and short versus long. Most children with ASD showed difficulties on passive constructions as compared to age controls, although with the same basic pattern of performance. More subtle delay on passives was evident in a subgroup who was otherwise unimpaired on standardized assessments of vocabulary and morphosyntax, while a pronounced delay on passives was detectable in another subgroup also displaying more general lexical and morphosyntactic impairment. Difficulties with passives were dissociated from nonverbal abilities and working memory. The findings reveal that the syntax of passives is delayed in ASD, not deviant. This delay was attested even in the subgroup with seemingly intact general language skills as revealed by standardized assessments, suggesting that subtle difficulties with this construction may be present and go undetected by global language tests. Performance on passives was unrelated to nonverbal abilities, in line with work suggesting that the linguistic phenotype of some children with ASD resembles SLI. This underscores the importance of careful assessment of the language abilities of children with ASD, including those within normal IQ range.

Keywords

Autism Spectrum Disorder, passives, syntax

How to Cite

Durrleman S. & Delage H. & Prévost P. & Tuller L., (2017) “The comprehension of passives in Autism Spectrum Disorder”, Glossa: a journal of general linguistics 2(1), p.88. doi: https://doi.org/10.5334/gjgl.205

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Authors

Stephanie Durrleman (Faculty of Psychology, University of Geneva, 40 Blvd du Pont d’Arve, 1211 Geneva)
Hélène Delage (Faculty of Psychology, University of Geneva, 40 Blvd du Pont d’Arve, 1211 Geneva)

Philippe Prévost (UMR INSERM U930, Université François Rabelais de Tours, 3 rue des Tanneurs, 37041 Tours Cedex)

Laurice Tuller (UMR INSERM U930, Université François Rabelais de Tours, 3 rue des Tanneurs, 37041 Tours Cedex)

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This article has been peer reviewed.

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