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Communication abilities of children with ASD and ADHD

Production, comprehension, and cognitive mechanisms
PhD ceremony:S.J.M. (Sanne) Kuijper
When:April 28, 2016
Supervisor:prof. dr. P. (Petra) Hendriks
Co-supervisor:dr. C.A. (Catharina) Hartman
Where:Academy building RUG
Communication abilities of children with ASD and ADHD

Children with autism spectrum disorder (ASD) often have communication problems. Children with ADHD may also have communication problems, but little is known about this.

For successful communication it is crucial that the listener understands what the speaker means. Therefore, as a speaker you need to take into account the listener, and vice versa. As a speaker, you must constantly decide how specific to be when referring to someone. For example, you can refer to "the singer" (specific) or the personal pronoun "he" (less specific).

I tested the performance of children with ASD and with ADHD in language production and language comprehension tasks. I investigated whether or not they took into account their conversational partner's perspective. I also examined whether their perspective-taking skills, working memory capacity, and impulse control contributed to successful communication. 

In the structured tasks, the children with ASD and with ADHD were able to take into account the perspective of their conversational partner equally well as typically developing children. The better their perspective-taking skills and impulse control, the better able they were to take into account their conversational partner. Their working memory capacity was particularly important in complex situations where much information needed to be remembered.

Despite children’s ability to take into account different perspectives in language, I observed several language problems in children with ASD and with ADHD. They had difficulties with telling cohesive stories and with formulating grammatically complex sentences. This shows that language can be challenging for children with ASD and with ADHD.