Autism: Language & Understanding

Adolescents diagnosed with autism are more likely to comprehend figurative language when their structural language skills are strong (Lucas & Norbury, 2014).

What is figurative language?

The most common examples of figurative language include metaphors (e.g. ‘Love is a journey’).

Figurative language also involves understanding and experiencing one kind of thing in terms of another’ (Lakoff and Johnson, 2003: 5), and verbal irony (e.g. ‘What nice weather’ – to describe a rainy day), which ‘consists in echoing a thought (e.g., a belief, an intention, a norm-based expectation) attributed to an individual, a group or to people in general, and expressing a mocking, skeptical or critical attitude to this thought’ (Wilson and Sperber, 2012: 125).

People with autistic-spectrum disorder (ASD) sometimes experience difficulties in comprehension of figurative language, and tend to give literal interpretation to ambiguous syntactic expressions, to phrases that convey irony, humour, sarcasm, idioms, or to metaphors.

This is not the case will all ASD individuals.

Depending how a child with ASD is raised, verbal skills can be developed such that the child grows to be above average when it comes to figurative language. One study published in the Journal of Human Neuroscience (2014) found that ASD individuals who had strong structural language had solid comprehension of conventional and novel metaphors.

Parents: Helping to Develop Verbal Skills in your ASD Child is one of the most important facets of their future ability to learn and express themselves.

This is difficult with a young non-verbal child, but with the continual help of a speech therapist, occupational therapist and the use of Play-therapy with a Registered Clinical Counsellor, your child will be given the best chance.

At home, you want to be continually talking and reading with your child. As they cry about a broken toy, you will develop their Emotional Quotient by saying something like, “You are crying because you are sad. Your toy broke and you feel sad”.

Why is developing strong structural language skills important in our children, whether with ASD or not?

The fact is, figurative language comprehension influences social relationships, social participation and educational achievement. So as parents we want to start as soon as possible, and this might even mean, talking and reading aloud with your baby while in vitro!

If you are a teacher or a parent and want to learn more about this and how to work with those diagnosed with ASD, call Shauna today! Learning what primary research is showing us as well as skill building based on the research will give these kids the best chance.

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