Is Prosody to Blame? High-Functioning Autistic Children Parse Syntactically Ambiguous Utterances with Prosodic Cues.
Schwartz, Sophie E.
- Prosody, the melody and rhythm of language, is widely reported as abnormal in those diagnosed with autism spectrum disorder (ASD) (McCann & Peppï¿½ï¿½, 2003). Previously published studies report that typically developing adults, children, and even infants rely on prosody to provide additionally relevant information that is not evident from language structures (i.e. words, grammar, etc.) alone (Speer ... read more& Ito, 1999). The intonational phrase boundary (primarily pause) is a prosodic cue that helps to delineate boundaries between words or phrases in stream of a fluent speech (Wilkinson, 1998). Based on previous finding that the lexical and syntactic elements of language are not impaired in individuals with high-functioning autism (HFA) (Thurber & Tager-Flusberg, 1993), it is hypothesized that these same individuals have no impairment in their ability to detect and process pause as a prosodic cue. The present study tests whether children, ages 6-9, with HFA (N=27) can effectively process an intonational phrase boundary to resolve ambiguous syntactic phrasing. It also compares the trajectory of on-line processing by HFA children with typically developing, same-aged peers (N=29), and peers of a slightly younger age (ages 4-5; N=16). Both TD and HFA children, ages 6-9, effectively use an intonational phrase boundary to signal the early syntactic closure of a phrase, but it takes children with HFA approximately 100 ms longer to process this cue. By contrast, young TD children do not appear to be able to use prosodic cue at any point during the two-clause presentation. These observations support the hypothesis that, by ages 6-9, HFA children are developmentally on-track with typically developing children of the same age, who use prosody for syntactic phrasing. However, their need for slightly more time suggests that the children with HFA may not be using the entire prosodic cue as efficiently as TD peers.read less