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Conversation Repairs in Different Communication Breakdown Contexts: Typically Developing Children and Autistic Children
Purpose: This study compares how Mandarin-speaking children with autism and normally developing children repair communication breakdowns in various contexts. Method: Two groups of children participated in this study: autistic children (N=22) and typically developing children (N=22). Each group consisted of preschoolers (N=11) and first and second graders (N=11). All the children were asked to complete three standardized tests, including PPVT-R (verbal comprehension), the Children Verbal Expression Test (verbal expression), and the TONI3 (nonverbal IQ) to understand their verbal skill and IQ. The children were also asked to interact with the experimenter in a play, a semistructured context where three communication breakdowns, request for clarification, non-acknowledgment, and topic shift, occurred. Children’s strategy to repair communication breakdowns was scored with either one point for an appropriate response or zero point for an inappropriate response. Their response was also coded into twelve categories, including repair, addition, recast, definition, spontaneous topic continuation, topic shift, attention, showing, eye contact, inappropriate strategy-monologue, inappropriate strategy- no response, and inappropriate strategy-no topic shift. Fifteen communication breakdown items were assessed in total. Findings: All children received higher mean scores in the request for clarification context than they did in the topic shift (second highest) and non-acknowledgement contexts (lowest). No significant difference was found in communication breakdown scores between the preschoolers and the first and second graders for both the group of autistic children and the group of typically developing chilren. In the context of request for clarification, the typically developing first and second graders used significantly more repair strategies than the preschoolers did. No significant difference, however, was observed between the preschoolers and the first and second graders with autism. All of the preschoolers, first graders, and second graders with autism received significantly lower scores in the three communication breakdown contexts than the typically developing preschoolers. Both the group of autistic children and the group of typically developing children used inappropriate strategies to repair communication breakdown. Other than the no response and no topic shift, the children with autism also used monologue to repair communication breakdown, which was not observed in normally developing children. Conclusion: Results of this study show that the preschoolers, first graders, and second graders with autism all have the intention and ability to repair communication breakdowns to some extent, but their repair strategies are more limited compared to typically developing children. Educational implications for improving the conversation repair ability in children with autism and suggestions for future research are discussed.
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