University of Wisconsin–Madison

Susan Ellis Weismer, PhD

Susan Ellis Weismer, PhD Slide of the Week 2017

Title: Predictors of Reading Comprehension of Ambiguous Sentences by Children with Autism Spectrum Disorder (ASD) and Neurotypical Controls

Legend: Participant performance (points) by age, word recognition, and vocabulary depth for sentence comprehension with the final model fixed effects predictions (lines) overlaid. Age and word recognition points are for each participant, and vocabulary depth points are for participant by item.

Citation: Davidson MM, Ellis Weismer S. (2017). Reading comprehension of ambiguous sentences by school-age children with autism spectrum disorder. Autism Research.Online First DOI: 10: 1002/aur.1850

Abstract: Weak central coherence (processing details over gist), poor oral language abilities, poor suppression, semantic interference, and poor comprehension monitoring have all been implicated to affect reading comprehension in individuals with ASD. This study viewed the contributions of different supporting skills as a collective set of skills necessary for context integration – a multi-component view – to examine individual differences in reading comprehension in school-age children (8-14 years) with ASD (n = 23) and typically developing (TD) control peers (n = 23). Participants completed a written ambiguous sentence comprehension task in which they had to integrate context to determine the correct homonym meaning via picture selection. Both comprehension products (i.e., offline representations after reading) and processes (i.e., online processing during reading) were evaluated. Results indicated that children with ASD, similar to their TD peers, integrated the context to access the correct homonym meanings while reading. However, after reading the sentences, when participants were asked to select the meanings, both groups experienced semantic interference between the two meanings. This semantic interference hindered the children with ASD’s sentence representation to a greater degree than their peers. Individual differences in age/development, word recognition, vocabulary breadth (i.e., number of words in the lexicon), and vocabulary depth (i.e., knowledge of the homonym meanings) contributed to sentence comprehension in both children with ASD and their peers. Together, this evidence supports a multi-component view and that helping children with ASD develop vocabulary depth may have cascading effects on their reading comprehension.

About the Lab: Ellis Weismer’s research focuses on investigating the developmental course and nature of language processing in typically developing children, late talkers, and children with specific language impairment (SLI). She is particularly interested in exploring the relationship between language and aspects of cognitive functioning, such as working memory capacity, in children with language learning difficulties. More recent work has focused on characterizing early language abilities of toddlers on the autism spectrum and examining the overlap between late talkers with and without ASD to evaluate the ‘distinct category’ versus ‘dimensional’ accounts of language disorders.

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