Despite average verbal intelligence, high-function children with autism have social comprehension deficits that are expressed by how they use and understand language. In this paper, we explored the general hypothesis that high-function children with autism make some, but not all, of the pragmatic inferences necessary for successful communication, even when they have the ability to perform noninferential language tasks. We contrasted the ability of 8 high-function children with autism (each with Verbal IQ > 70) and typically developing children to use and understand: pragmatic inferences about given or presupposed knowledge in mental state words; pragmatic inferences about new or implied knowledge in mental state words; bridging inferences essential for coherence; elaborative inferences involved in enriching a communication by means of figurative language; and the intentional inferences involved in speech acts. High-function children with autism could define words and identify multiple meanings for ambiguous words. In understanding words for mental states, they made inferences from mental state verbs to given or presupposed knowledge. However, they failed to infer what mental state verbs implied in context; to make inferences about social scripts; to understand metaphor; and to produce speech acts, all of which are inferences that are the basis of successful social communication because they elaborate meaning or convey intentions.
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Dennis, M., Lazenby, A.L. & Lockyer, L. Inferential Language in High-Function Children with Autism. J Autism Dev Disord 31, 47–54 (2001). https://doi.org/10.1023/A:1005661613288
- high-function children
- inferential language