Narrative abilities of bilingual children with Autism Spectrum Disorder, Developmental Language Disorder and Typical Development

  • Author / Creator
    Govinda Rajan, Krithika
  • This thesis examined the narrative abilities of English L2 learners with Autism Spectrum Disorder (ASD), Developmental Language Disorder (DLD) and Typical Development (TD). Producing an effective story requires the interplay of linguistic and pragmatic abilities; narrative samples are useful in analyzing the linguistic abilities of children, including those from clinical populations. Narratives can be analyzed for macrostructure and microstructure components, as well as for components requiring perspective-taking abilities such as the use of terms reflecting story characters’ internal states. Compared to the monolingual research, there have been fewer studies examining narratives in clinical bilingual groups, especially bilinguals with ASD, and no study so far has compared bilinguals with ASD to bilinguals with DLD. However, studies with bilinguals are essential from both a theoretical and clinical perspective, especially in multilingual and multicultural societies such as Canada.
    This thesis addresses gaps in the existing research on bilingualism, ASD and DLD by looking at older school-age bilinguals, examining narratives rather than lexical development or developmental milestones in ASD, and by focusing on the input and language environments of different bilingual populations. The following theoretical questions were examined: (1) Is macrostructure an area of weakness in DLD? (2) Do children with ASD experience difficulties with structural language, i.e., morphology and syntax? (3) Are narrative skills requiring perspective-taking abilities equally vulnerable in ASD and DLD? (4) Do bilinguals with ASD and DLD use the second language input they receive to the same as bilinguals with TD?
    To answer the above questions, three studies were carried out with bilingual children from immigrant and newcomer families. Narratives were elicited using a story-generation task and demographic and linguistic input information were collected using parental questionnaires. In Paper 1, the narrative abilities of bilinguals with DLD were compared to those of bilinguals with TD. The participants were matched on age and length of exposure to L2 (mean=24 months). Both macrostructure and microstructure components were examined. In Papers 2 and 3, a 3-way comparison was conducted with bilinguals with ASD, DLD and TD matched on age, receptive vocabulary, and non-verbal cognitive scores, but crucially not matched on exposure to L2 English. Paper 2 focused on macrostructure measured in terms of global story grammar scores and individual story grammar components, as well as microstructure components such as MLU or the use of complex syntax. Paper 3 focused on the production of internal state terms.
    Taken together, the results revealed several important findings. First, macrostructure differentiated between the bilinguals with DLD and the bilinguals with TD (Paper 1). Second, the ASD and DLD groups patterned similarly for narrative macrostructure when global scores were examined, with only the bilingual ASD group differing significantly from the bilingual TD group (Paper 2). Third, both clinical groups patterned similarly for microstructure components and differed from TD (Paper 2). Fourth, bilinguals with ASD produced fewer narrative components requiring perspective-taking abilities such as the use of internal state terms (Paper 3) and unambiguous character introductions (Paper 2) than both the bilinguals with DLD and TD. In fact, the bilinguals with DLD did not differ from the bilinguals with TD on any component requiring perspective-taking abilities. Finally, exposure to L2 input or richer L2 environments did not predict performance in the ASD or DLD group.
    Going back to the larger theoretical questions, the findings from this thesis suggest that (1) macrostructure is an area of weakness in DLD when groups that have lower levels of L2 exposure are compared, but not necessarily when groups with more exposure are compared. Next, the findings for narrative microstructure indicate that (2) at least some children with ASD experience difficulties with structural language and overlap with DLD. They indicate that (3) narrative components requiring perspective-taking skills represent an area of weakness in ASD, but an area of strength in DLD when language-matched groups are compared. Finally (4), narrative deficits are well-entrenched in both clinical groups and cannot be attributed to differences in L2 exposure. The findings of this thesis have both theoretical and clinical relevance by helping identify targets for intervention.

  • Subjects / Keywords
  • Graduation date
    Spring 2021
  • Type of Item
  • Degree
    Doctor of Philosophy
  • DOI
  • License
    This thesis is made available by the University of Alberta Libraries with permission of the copyright owner solely for non-commercial purposes. This thesis, or any portion thereof, may not otherwise be copied or reproduced without the written consent of the copyright owner, except to the extent permitted by Canadian copyright law.