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Interagency Autism Coordinating Committee (IACC)
Autism Research Database
Office of Autism Research Coordination (OARC)
 
Project Element Element Description

Project Title

Project Title

Prosodic and pragmatic processes in highly verbal children with autism

Principal Investigator

Principal Investigator

Snedeker, Jesse

Description

Description

Children with autism spectrum disorders vary considerably in their language abilities, but even verbally proficient children have difficulty with two aspects of language: pragmatic inference, which uses context to understand the meaning of a sentence, and prosodic comprehension, which uses speakers’ tone to understand the feelings, attitude and information they wish to convey. Although children with autism have difficulty with both skills, the extent of these difficulties and their causes are poorly understood. To examine these issues, Jesse Snedeker of Harvard University and her colleagues are examining in real time the processes that occur as children understand language. Rather than ask children to point at pictures or answer questions — standard approaches that reveal what the children understand, but not how they arrive at this understanding — Snedeker and colleagues use a computer to track children’s eye movements as they listen to sentences while viewing a corresponding scene. The timing and direction of the children’s gaze provide clues to how they process information in a sentence. For example, if children are asked to pick the ‘tiger’ from a set of animals, they will generally shift their gaze to the tiger even before that word ends. Snedeker’s team has found that eye movements can also be used to measure complex grammatical processes. In typically developing children, these processes are quickly influenced by the prosody of the sentence and the pragmatic context in which it is used. The researchers plan to track eye movements to determine whether highly verbal children with autism can also use prosody and pragmatics to guide language comprehension — for example, whether they understand that pronouns typically refer to recently mentioned people, or whether they can infer that an emphasized word is likely to refer to something new or unexpected. The project may shed light on the extent to which children with autism have problems with prosody and pragmatics, and how these difficulties limit their ability to understand language in context.

Funder

Funder

Simons Foundation

Fiscal Year Funding

Fiscal Year Funding

0

Current Award Period

Current Award Period

2009-2012

Strategic Plan Question

Strategic Plan Question

Question 1: When Should I Be Concerned?

Strategic Plan Objective

Strategic Plan Objective

Yellow dot: Objective has some degree of funding, but less than the recommended amount. 1LC. Identify and develop measures to assess at least three "continuous dimensions" (e.g., social reciprocity, communication disorders, and repetitive/restrictive behaviors) of ASD symptoms and severity that can be used by practitioners and/or families to assess response to intervention for people with ASD across the lifespan by 2016. IACC Recommended Budget: $18,500,000 over 5 years.

Project Link

Project Link

Prosodic and pragmatic processes in highly verbal children with autism (External web link)

Institution

Institution

President & Fellows of Harvard College

State/Country

State/Country

Massachusetts

Project Number

Project Number

136397

Federal or Private?

Federal or Private?

Private

Received ARRA Funding?

Received ARRA Funding?

No

History/Related Projects

History/Related Projects

Prosodic and pragmatic processes in highly verbal children with autism | 149999 | 2010 | 136397
Prosodic and pragmatic processes in highly verbal children with autism | 37500 | 2009 | 136397
Prosodic and pragmatic processes in highly verbal children with autism | 112500 | 2011 | 136397

 
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