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Autistic and Neurotypical Children’s Judgements and Production of Off-topic and Delayed Conversational Responses

McGuinness, Lauren, Abbot-Smith, Kirsten, Gambi, Chiara (2023) Autistic and Neurotypical Children’s Judgements and Production of Off-topic and Delayed Conversational Responses. In: International Society for Autism Research annual conference, 3-6 May 2023, Stockholm, Sweden. (Unpublished) (The full text of this publication is not currently available from this repository. You may be able to access a copy if URLs are provided) (KAR id:101334)

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On average, autistic groups are more likely than non-autistic groups to respond in an off-topic manner (Sng et al., 2020), and/or to leave significantly longer turn-taking gaps (Ochi et al., 2019). Exhibiting unconventional conversational behaviours could result in negative social impressions of autistic children from their neurotypical peers (e.g., Place & Becker, 1991). However, it is possible that autistic individuals do not make the same social judgments due to different communicative preferences (Granieri et al., 2020).

Objectives: This study aimed to determine whether autistic children pattern similarly or differently to their neurotypical peers in rating off-topic or delayed responding as a deterrent to friendship or interaction, and if not, whether they are aware of the societal dispreference for these behaviours.

Methods: Current results are based on twenty-eight participants (N=14 per group), but the final (pre-registered) sample will include thirty-six neurotypical and thirty-six autistic children. All participants are aged between 9;0 and 13;11-years, and groups are matched on chronological age, gender ratio, core language ability, and non-verbal reasoning skills. Participants listened to several short audio clips of conversations containing six conversational turns between two children. For each conversation, participants rated four statements on a 0-100 scale: two capturing their personal preferences, such as “I would enjoy chatting to the [target speaker]”, and two regarding their perceptions of “Most other people’s” impressions. A conversation production measure was also used to observe participants’ tendency to provide off-topic or delayed responses themselves. Study 1 manipulated the typicality of the target speaker’s responses via the content of their utterances: On-topic vs. Off-topic. One example of an off-topic response to the statement “I went to that new restaurant in town last night” is “Oh no, I think my library books are due in today”. Study 2 manipulated the timing of the target speaker’s conversational turns. That is, the responses were all on-topic, but either came 200-msec after the offset of the preceding utterance (Typical) or 3000-msec after (Delayed).

Results: In the judgement task, autistic children were just as likely as their neurotypical peers to dis-prefer ‘atypical’ conversational responses. That is, both groups indicated that they were less likely to want to be friends with the speaker, or to interact with them, when they provided off-topic or delayed conversational responses. While it is possible that some autistic adults may develop a preference for atypical communication styles, it appears that the preferences of autistic children are not only indistinguishable from that of neurotypical children, but also align with their perceptions of what is socially acceptable.

In the conversation task, autistic children took only slightly longer to respond to the experimenter’s conversational statements than neurotypical children. However, despite judging off-topic responding in others negatively, autistic children were significantly more likely than their neurotypical peers to provide off- topic responses themselves. This therefore suggests a potential disconnect between autistic children’s judgement of others, and their own conversational behaviours.

Item Type: Conference or workshop item (Poster)
Uncontrolled keywords: conversation; social judgements; topic; latency; responding; autistic; children; friendship
Subjects: B Philosophy. Psychology. Religion
B Philosophy. Psychology. Religion > BF Psychology
B Philosophy. Psychology. Religion > BF Psychology > BF41 Psychology and philosophy
Divisions: Divisions > Division of Human and Social Sciences > School of Psychology
Depositing User: Kirsten Abbot-Smith
Date Deposited: 19 May 2023 13:51 UTC
Last Modified: 22 May 2023 09:42 UTC
Resource URI: (The current URI for this page, for reference purposes)

University of Kent Author Information

McGuinness, Lauren.

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Abbot-Smith, Kirsten.

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