Youth with Autism Spectrum Disorder Comprehend Lexicalized and Novel Primary Conceptual Metaphors

Abstract

Individuals with autism spectrum disorder (ASD) have difficulty comprehending metaphors. However, no study to date has examined whether or not they understand conceptual metaphors (i.e. mappings between conceptual structures), which could be the building blocks of metaphoric thinking and understanding. We investigated whether 13 participants with ASD (age 7;03–22;03) and 13 age-matched typically developing (TD) controls could comprehend lexicalized conceptual metaphors (e.g., Susan is a warm person) and novel ones (e.g., Susan is a toasty person). Individuals with ASD performed at greater than chance levels on both metaphor types, although their performance was lower than TD participants. We discuss the theoretical relevance of these findings and educational implications.

This is a preview of subscription content, access via your institution.

Fig. 1
Fig. 2

Notes

  1. 1.

    Although the current version of the Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders (American Psychiatric Association 2013a) no longer contains the diagnosis of Asperger’s syndrome, instead folding the diagnoses under the umbrella diagnosis of ASD (American Psychiatric Association 2013b), we will use the term here in the interest of accurately summarizing the extant literature.

  2. 2.

    We use the term traditional metaphor to refer to non-conceptual metaphors (but see Lakoff and Turner 1989; Lakoff and Johnson 1999, for arguments that most traditional metaphors are based in conceptual mappings).

  3. 3.

    Conceptual metaphors are customarily expressed in italicized capital letters.

References

  1. American Psychiatric Association. (2000). Diagnostic and statistical manual of mental disorders (4th ed., text rev.). Washington, DC: Author.

    Google Scholar 

  2. American Psychiatric Association. (2013a). Diagnostic and statistical manual of mental disorders (5th ed.). Arlington, VA: American Psychiatric Publishing.

    Google Scholar 

  3. American Psychiatric Association. (2013b). Highlights of changes from DSM-IV-TR to DSM-5. Retrieved from http://www.dsm5.org/Documents/changes%20from%20dsm-iv-tr%20to%20dsm-5.pdf.

  4. Baron-Cohen, S. (1997). Mindblindness: An essay on autism and theory of mind. Cambridge, MA: MIT Press.

    Google Scholar 

  5. Baron-Cohen, S. (2000). Theory of mind and autism: A 15-year review. In S. Baron-Cohen, H. Tager-Flusberg, & D. J. Cohen (Eds.), Understanding other minds: Perspectives from developmental cognitive neuroscience (2nd ed., pp. 3–21). Oxford: Oxford University Press.

    Google Scholar 

  6. Belmonte, M. K., Allen, G., Beckel-Mitchener, A., Boulanger, L. M., Carper, R. A., & Webb, S. J. (2004). Autism and abnormal development of brain connectivity. The Journal of Neuroscience, 24(42), 9228–9231.

    PubMed  Article  Google Scholar 

  7. Bowdle, B. F., & Gentner, D. (2005). The career of metaphor. Psychological Review, 112(1), 193–216.

    PubMed  Article  Google Scholar 

  8. Colston, H. L., & Kuiper, M. S. (2002). Figurative language development research and popular children’s literature: Why we should know,” Where the Wild Things Are”. Metaphor and Symbol, 17(1), 27–43.

    Article  Google Scholar 

  9. Common Core State Standards Initiative. (2010). Common core state standards for English language arts & literacy in history. Social Studies, Science, and Technical Subjects, 2. Retrieved from http://www.corestandards.org/wp-content/uploads/ELA_Standards.pdf.

  10. De Jaegher, H. (2013). Embodiment and sense-making in autism. Frontiers in Integrative Neuroscience, 7(15), 1–19. doi:10.3389/fnint.2013.00015.

    Google Scholar 

  11. Dennis, M., Lazenby, A. L., & Lockyer, L. (2001). Inferential language in high-function children with autism. Journal of Autism and Developmental Disorders, 31(1), 47–54.

    PubMed  Article  Google Scholar 

  12. Dunn, L. M., & Dunn, D. M. (2007). Peabody picture vocabulary test (4th ed.). San Antonio, TX: Pearson Assessments.

    Google Scholar 

  13. Eigsti, I. (2013). A review of embodiment in autism spectrum disorders. Frontiers in Psychology, 4.

  14. Gallese, V., & Lakoff, G. (2005). The brain’s concepts: The role of the sensory-motor system in conceptual knowledge. Cognitive Neuropsychology, 22(3–4), 455–479.

    PubMed  Article  Google Scholar 

  15. Gelman, A., & Stern, H. (2006). The difference between “significant” and “not significant” is not itself statistically significant. American Statistician, 60(4), 328–331. doi:10.1198/000313006X152649.

    Article  Google Scholar 

  16. Gentner, D. (1988). Metaphor as structure mapping: The relational shift. Child Development, 59(1), 47–59.

    Article  Google Scholar 

  17. Gentner, D., Bowdle, B. F., Wolff, P., & Boronat, C. (2001). Metaphor is like analogy. In D. Gentner, K. J. Holyoak, & B. N. Kokinov (Eds.), The analogical mind: Perspectives from cognitive science. Cambridge, MA: MIT Press.

    Google Scholar 

  18. Gentner, D., & Clement, C. A. (1988). Evidence for relational selectivity in interpreting analogy and metaphor. In G. H. Bower (Ed.), The psychology of learning and motivation (pp. 307–358). New York: Academic Press.

    Google Scholar 

  19. Gibbs, R. W. (2011). Evaluating conceptual metaphor theory. Discourse Processes, 48(8), 529–562.

    Article  Google Scholar 

  20. Gibbs, R. W., Lima, P. L. C., & Francozo, E. (2004). Metaphor is grounded in embodied experience. Journal of Pragmatics, 36(7), 1189–1210.

    Article  Google Scholar 

  21. Gick, M. L., & Holyoak, K. J. (1980). Analogical problem solving. Cognitive Psychology, 12(3), 306–355.

    Article  Google Scholar 

  22. Giora, R. (1997). Understanding figurative and literal language: The graded salience hypothesis. Cognitive Linguistics, 8, 183–206.

    Article  Google Scholar 

  23. Giora, R. (1999). On the priority of salient meanings: Studies of literal and figurative language. Journal of Pragmatics, 31(7), 919–929.

    Article  Google Scholar 

  24. Giora, R. (2003). On our mind: Salience, context, and figurative language. New York: Oxford University Press.

    Google Scholar 

  25. Giora, R., Gazal, O., Goldstein, I., Fein, O., & Stringaris, A. (2012). Salience and context: Interpretation of metaphorical and literal language by young adults diagnosed with Asperger’s syndrome. Metaphor and Symbol, 27(1), 22–54. doi:10.1080/10926488.2012.638823.

    Article  Google Scholar 

  26. Gold, R., & Faust, M. (2010). Right hemisphere dysfunction and metaphor comprehension in young adults with Asperger syndrome. Journal of Autism and Developmental Disorders, 40(7), 800–811. doi:10.1007/s10803-009-0930-1.

    PubMed  Article  Google Scholar 

  27. Gottfried, G. M. (1997). Comprehending compounds: Evidence for metaphoric skill? Journal of Child Language, 24(1), 163–186.

    PubMed  Article  Google Scholar 

  28. Grady, J. (1997a). Foundations of meaning: Primary metaphors and primary scenes. (Doctoral dissertation, University of California, Berkeley).

  29. Grady, J. (1997b). Theories are buildings revisited. Cognitive Linguistics, 8, 267–290.

    Article  Google Scholar 

  30. Grady, J. (1999). A typology of motivation for conceptual metaphor: Correlation vs. resemblance. In G. Steen & R. W. Gibbs (Eds.), Metaphor in cognitive linguistics (pp. 79–100). Philadelphia, PA: John Benjamins.

    Google Scholar 

  31. Grady, J. (2005). Primary metaphors as inputs to conceptual integration. Journal of Pragmatics, 37, 1595–1614.

    Article  Google Scholar 

  32. Grady, J., & Johnson, C. (2000). Converging evidence for the notions of subscene and primary scene. In R. Dirven & R. Pörings (Eds.), Metaphor and metonymy in comparison and contrast (pp. 533–554). Berlin: Mouton de Gruyter.

    Google Scholar 

  33. Grice, H. P. (1975). Logic and conversation. In P. Cole & J. Morgan (Eds.), Syntax and semantics, Vol. 3: Speech acts (pp. 41–58). New York: Academic Press.

  34. Gunter, H. L., Ghaziuddin, M., & Ellis, H. D. (2002). Asperger syndrome: Tests of right hemisphere functioning and interhemispheric communication. Journal of Autism and Developmental Disorders, 32(4), 263–281.

    PubMed  Article  Google Scholar 

  35. Happé, F. G. (1993). Communicative competence and theory of mind in autism: A test of relevance theory. Cognition, 48(2), 101–119.

    PubMed  Article  Google Scholar 

  36. Hus, V., & Lord, C. (2013). Effects of child characteristics on the autism diagnostic interview-revised: Implications for use of scores as a measure of ASD severity. Journal of Autism and Developmental Disorders, 43(2), 371–381.

    PubMed  Article  PubMed Central  Google Scholar 

  37. Jakobson, B., & Wickman, P. (2007). Transformation through language use: Children’s spontaneous metaphors in elementary school science. Science & Education, 16(3–5), 267–289.

    Article  Google Scholar 

  38. Jolliffe, T., & Baron-Cohen, S. (1999). A test of central coherence theory: Linguistic processing in high-functioning adults with autism or Asperger syndrome: Is local coherence impaired? Cognition, 71(2), 149–185.

    PubMed  Article  Google Scholar 

  39. Just, M. A., Cherkassky, V. L., Keller, T. A., Kana, R. K., & Minshew, N. J. (2007). Functional and anatomical cortical underconnectivity in autism: Evidence from an fMRI study of an executive function task and corpus callosum morphometry. Cerebral Cortex, 17(4), 951–961. doi:10.1093/cercor/bhl006.

    PubMed  Article  Google Scholar 

  40. Kana, R. K., Keller, T. A., Cherkassky, V. L., Minshew, N. J., & Just, M. A. (2006). Sentence comprehension in autism: Thinking in pictures with decreased functional connectivity. Brain, 129(9), 2484–2493.

    PubMed  Article  Google Scholar 

  41. Kövecses, Z. (1990). Emotion concepts. New York: Springer.

    Google Scholar 

  42. Kövecses, Z. (2005). Metaphor in culture: Universality and variation. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press.

    Google Scholar 

  43. Lakoff, G., & Johnson, M. (1980). Metaphors we live by. Chicago: University of Chicago Press.

    Google Scholar 

  44. Lakoff, G., & Johnson, M. (1999). Philosophy in the flesh: The embodied mind and its challenge to western thought. New York: Basic Books.

    Google Scholar 

  45. Lakoff, G., & Turner, M. (1989). More than cool reason: A field guide to poetic metaphor. Chicago: University of Chicago Press.

    Google Scholar 

  46. Le Couteur, A., Lord, C., & Rutter, M. (2003). The autism diagnostic interview—revised (ADI-R). Los Angeles, CA: Western Psychological Services.

    Google Scholar 

  47. MacKay, G., & Shaw, A. (2004). A comparative study of figurative language in children with autistic spectrum disorders. Child Language Teaching and Therapy, 20(1), 13–32.

    Article  Google Scholar 

  48. Mashal, N., & Kasirer, A. (2011). Thinking maps enhance metaphoric competence in children with autism and learning disabilities. Research in Developmental Disabilities, 32(6), 2045–2054.

    PubMed  Article  Google Scholar 

  49. Mayes, S. D., & Calhoun, S. L. (2003). Relationship between Asperger syndrome and high-functioning autism. In M. Prior (Ed.), Learning and behavior problems in Asperger syndrome (pp. 15–34). New York: The Guilford Press.

    Google Scholar 

  50. Miller, L. T., & Lee, C. J. (1993). Construct validation of the peabody picture vocabulary test—revised: A structural equation model of the acquisition order of words. Psychological Assessment, 5(4), 438–441. doi:10.1037/1040-3590.5.4.438.

    Article  Google Scholar 

  51. Murphy, G. L. (1996). On metaphoric representation. Cognition, 60(2), 173–204.

    PubMed  Article  Google Scholar 

  52. Norbury, C. F. (2005). The relationship between theory of mind and metaphor: Evidence from children with language impairment and autistic spectrum disorder. British Journal of Developmental Psychology, 23(3), 383–399.

    Article  Google Scholar 

  53. North West Regional Special Educational Needs Partnership, Great Britain, Department for Education and Skills. (2004). Children with autism: Strategies for accessing the curriculum, key stages 3 & 4. [S.l.]: North West Regional Special Educational Needs Partnership.

  54. Özçalışkan, Ş. (2005). On learning to draw the distinction between physical and metaphorical motion: Is metaphor an early emerging cognitive and linguistic capacity? Journal of Child Language, 32(2), 291–318.

    PubMed  Article  Google Scholar 

  55. Özçalışkan, Ş. (2007). Metaphors we move by: Children’s developing understanding of metaphorical motion in typologically distinct languages. Metaphor and Symbol, 22(2), 147–168. doi:10.1080/10926480701235429.

    Article  Google Scholar 

  56. Raven, J. C., Raven, J., & Court, J. H. (2003). Raven’s standard progressive matrices. San Antonio, TX: Pearson Assessments.

    Google Scholar 

  57. Reyna, V. F., & Kiernan, B. (1995). Children’s memory and metaphorical interpretation. Metaphor and Symbolic Activity, 10(4), 309–331.

    Article  Google Scholar 

  58. Reynolds, R. E., & Ortony, A. (1980). Some issues in the measurement of children’s comprehension of metaphorical language. Child Development, 51(4), 1110–1119.

    Article  Google Scholar 

  59. Rundblad, G., & Annaz, D. (2010a). The atypical development of metaphor and metonymy comprehension in children with autism. Autism the International Journal of Research and Practice, 14(1), 29–46.

    PubMed  Article  Google Scholar 

  60. Rundblad, G., & Annaz, D. (2010b). Development of metaphor and metonymy comprehension: Receptive vocabulary and conceptual knowledge. British Journal of Developmental Psychology, 28(3), 547–563. doi:10.1348/026151009X454373.

    PubMed  Article  Google Scholar 

  61. Rundblad, G., Dimitriou, D., & Van Herwegen, J. (in preparation). From impairment to cognitive delay: A study of figurative language in Williams syndrome highlighting methodological issues.

  62. Searle, J. (1979). Metaphor. In A. Ortony (Ed.), Metaphor and thought (pp. 92–123). New York: Cambridge University Press.

  63. Sardinha, T. B. (2008). Metaphor probabilities in corpora. In S. Zanotto, L. Cameron, & M. Cavalcanti (Eds.), Confronting metaphor in use: An applied linguistic approach (pp. 127–148). Phildelphia, PA: John Benjamins.

    Google Scholar 

  64. Siltanen, S. A. (1989). Effects of three levels of context on children’s metaphor comprehension. Journal of Genetic Psychology, 150(2), 197–215.

    Article  Google Scholar 

  65. Siltanen, S. A. (1990). Effects of explicitness on children’s metaphor comprehension. Metaphor and Symbolic Activity, 5(1), 1–20.

    Article  Google Scholar 

  66. Stites, L. J., & Özçalışkan, Ş. (2013a). Developmental changes in children’s comprehension and explanation of spatial metaphors for time. Journal of Child Language, 40(5), 1123–1137. doi:10.1017/S0305000912000384.

    PubMed  Article  Google Scholar 

  67. Stites, L. J., & Özçalışkan, Ş. (2013b). Teasing apart the role of cognitive and verbal factors in children’s early metaphorical abilities. Metaphor and Symbol, 28(2), 116–129.

    Article  Google Scholar 

  68. Tager-Flusberg, H. (2003). Effects of language and communicative deficits on learning and behavior. In M. Prior (Ed.) (pp. 85–103). New York, NY US: Guilford Press.

  69. The New England Center for Children. (2013). Autism curriculum encyclopedia. Retrieved from http://www.necc.org/programs_services/ace-curriculum.asp.

  70. Van Herwegen, J., Dimitriou, D., & Rundblad, G. (2013). Development of novel metaphor and metonymy comprehension in typically developing children and Williams syndrome. Research in Developmental Disabilities, 34(4), 1300–1311. doi:10.1016/j.ridd.2013.01.017.

    PubMed  Article  Google Scholar 

  71. Vervaeke, J., & Kennedy, J. M. (1996). Metaphors in language and thought: Falsification and multiple meanings. Metaphor and Symbolic Activity, 11, 273–284.

    Article  Google Scholar 

  72. Vervaeke, J., & Kennedy, J. M. (2004). Conceptual metaphor and abstract thought. Metaphor and Symbol, 19, 213–232.

    Article  Google Scholar 

  73. Vosniadou, S. (1989). Context and the development of metaphor comprehension. Metaphor and Symbolic Activity, 4(3), 159–171.

    Article  Google Scholar 

  74. Vosniadou, S., Ortony, A., Reynolds, R. E., & Wilson, P. T. (1984). Sources of difficulty in the young child’s understanding of metaphorical language. Child Development, 55(4), 1588–1606.

    Article  Google Scholar 

  75. Winner, E. (1988). The point of words: Children’s understanding of metaphor and irony. Cambridge, MA: Harvard University Press.

    Google Scholar 

  76. Winner, E., McCarthy, M., & Gardner, H. (1980). The ontogenesis of metaphor. In R. P. Honeck & R. R. Hoffman (Eds.), Cognition and figurative language. Hillsdale, NJ: Erlbaum.

    Google Scholar 

  77. Winner, E., Rosenstiel, A. K., & Gardner, H. (1976). The development of metaphoric understanding. Developmental Psychology, 12(4), 289–297.

    Article  Google Scholar 

  78. Witwer, A. N., & Lecavalier, L. (2008). Examining the validity of autism spectrum disorder subtypes. Journal of Autism and Developmental Disorders, 38(9), 1611–1624.

    PubMed  Article  Google Scholar 

Download references

Acknowledgments

We would like to thank Tom Barth, Judy McDonald, Mary Rosswurm, and Tim Courtney for their assistance in data collection. We would also like to thank the participants and parents for their generosity and time. This research was supported by funds from Wabash College to EO, DC, OO, and AB.

Author information

Affiliations

Authors

Corresponding author

Correspondence to Eric L. Olofson.

Rights and permissions

Reprints and Permissions

About this article

Verify currency and authenticity via CrossMark

Cite this article

Olofson, E.L., Casey, D., Oluyedun, O.A. et al. Youth with Autism Spectrum Disorder Comprehend Lexicalized and Novel Primary Conceptual Metaphors. J Autism Dev Disord 44, 2568–2583 (2014). https://doi.org/10.1007/s10803-014-2129-3

Download citation

Keywords

  • Autism
  • Metaphor
  • Conceptual metaphor
  • Language