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Attention to context in high functioning children with autism Cornwell, Orenda Michelle

Abstract

The present study investigated the sentence processing skills of high-functioning children with autism and Asperger Syndrome. Specifically it aimed to determine whether these children were able to attend to and use linguistic constraints during real-time processing in the same way as their age peers. Nineteen children, divided into two groups, an autistic group and an age-matched group, participated in the study. Sentence processing abilities were assessed using a word-monitoring paradigm. The participants were required to press a button as soon as they heard a prespecified target word in an auditorily presented sentence. The target words occurred in four different sentence conditions: Normal, Syntactic, Random Word Order, and Semantic Anomaly. Reaction times were recorded. Working memory span was also assessed using a counting span task. The children in the autistic group resembled their age peers in their overall response pattern across the sentence conditions, but they were faster in three of the four conditions. Across both groups reaction times increased from the Normal condition to the Syntactic condition to the Random Word Order and Semantic Anomaly conditions. Working memory spans were comparable between the groups. Results are seen to indicate that high-functioning children with autism or Asperger Syndrome are able to attend to and use local linguistic contextual constraints but may have deficits in constructing and/or integrating global context during on-line processing.

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