Article choice, theory of mind, and memory in children with high-functioning autism and children with specific language impairment

Jeannette Schaeffer, Merel Van Witteloostuijn, Ava Creemers

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

4 Scopus citations

Abstract

Previous studies show that young, typically developing (TD) children (<age 5) and children with specific language impairment (SLI; >age 5) make errors in the choice between a definite and an indefinite article. Suggested explanations for overgeneration of the definite article include failure to distinguish speaker from hearer assumptions, and for overgeneration of the indefinite article failure to draw scalar implicatures, and weak working memory. However, no direct empirical evidence for these accounts is available. In this study, 27 Dutch-speaking children with high-functioning autism, 27 children with SLI, and 27 TD children aged 5-14 were administered a pragmatic article choice test, a nonverbal theory of mind test, and three types of memory tests (phonological memory, verbal, and nonverbal working memory). The results show that the children with high-functioning autism and SLI (a) make similar errors, that is, they overgenerate the indefinite article; (b) are TD-like at theory of mind, but (c) perform significantly more poorly than the TD children on phonological memory and verbal working memory. We propose that weak memory skills prevent the integration of the definiteness scale with the preceding discourse, resulting in the failure to consistently draw the relevant scalar implicature. This in turn yields the occasional erroneous choice of the indefinite article a in definite contexts.

Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)89-115
Number of pages27
JournalApplied Psycholinguistics
Volume39
Issue number1
DOIs
StatePublished - 1 Jan 2018
Externally publishedYes

Keywords

  • article choice
  • high-functioning autism
  • phonological and working memory
  • specific language impairment
  • theory of mind

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