Verbal irony comprehension for children and adolescents with high-functioning autism and Asperger's syndrome in computer-mediated communication

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Agbayewa, Abiola S.
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Children and adolescents with autism commonly struggle with social interactions. In particular, it has been found that children and adolescents with autism struggle with verbal irony in face-to-face interactions where there are many competing cues that require their attention (i.e., body language, facial expressions, intonation). This study made use of Bubble Dialogue (Cunningham et al., 1992), a form of computer-mediated communication, to examine how children and adolescents with high-functioning autism and Asperger’s syndrome (HFA/AS) comprehended verbal irony when these competing cues were removed from social interactions. Speaker attribute information has been shown to be beneficial in aiding typically developing children with successful verbal irony comprehension. In this study, participants with HFA/AS and matched typically developing participants were presented with Bubble Dialogue scenarios where speaker attribute was manipulated such that speakers were labelled as a peer, an adult, or without a speaker attribute label. Participants were presented with scenarios where the speaker made either an ironic criticism or a literal compliment in order to assess whether or not the information about the speaker influenced their comprehension and interpretation of speaker belief, speaker intent and speaker humour. Participants with HFA/AS provided responses along similar themes to their typically developing counterparts for both literal compliments and ironic criticisms in each speaker attribute condition. Participants with HFA/AS performed similarly to typically developing participants on their interpretations of speaker belief, speaker intent, and speaker humour. These findings suggest that, within the context of computer-mediated communication, children with HFA/AS are able to perform as well as typically developing participants on measures of verbal irony comprehension.
verbal irony comprehension, high-functioning autism, Asperger's syndrome, computer-mediated communication