Pragmatics Abilities In Narrative Production: A Cross-Disorder Comparison

Courtenay Frazier Norbury, University of London
Tracey Gemmell, Winnebago County Special Education Cooperative
Rhea Paul, Sacred Heart University


We aimed to disentangle contributions of socio-pragmatic and structural language deficits to narrative competence by comparing the narratives of children with autism spectrum disorder (ASD; n=25), non-autistic children with language impairments (LI; n=23), and children with typical development (TD; n=27). Groups were matched for age (6½ to 15 years; mean: 10;6) and non-verbal ability; ASD and TD groups were matched on standardized language scores. Despite distinct clinical presentation, children with ASD and LI produced similarly simple narratives that lacked semantic richness and omitted important story elements, when compared to TD peers. Pragmatic errors were common across groups. Within the LI group, pragmatic errors were negatively correlated with story macrostructure scores and with an index of semantic–pragmatic relevance. For the group with ASD, pragmatic errors consisted of comments that, though extraneous, did not detract from the gist of the narrative. These findings underline the importance of both language and socio-pragmatic skill for producing coherent, appropriate narratives.