Speaker: Dr. Neha Khetrapal

Title:  Linguistic Competence on Pronouns in Children with Autism

Date: Friday, 11 March, 1-2 pm 

Venue: AS4/02-08 (Psychology Department Meeting Room) 


Language researchers explain the nature of any linguistic phenomena in the adult grammar by studying how children’s competence develops or matures with respect to the chosen linguistic phenomenon. But explaining such competence can be challenging as it is not directly observable in children and has to be discerned from the performance data. The performance data itself is mediated by non-linguistic factors (e.g. working memory) and is not a true representation of linguistic competence. The problems are compounded when the researchers aim to understand linguistic competence in developmental disorders like autism, characterized by communication and language impairments. Is it possible to really know whether such special children are as linguistically competent as their typically developing peers by deploying tasks that tap directly into their competence? The current presentation proposes a novel dynamic Truth Value Judgment Task (TVJT) to assess the understanding of pronouns in sentences like He washed Superman with a sponge. The broader aim was to find out whether children with autism respect grammatical constraints of their first language (e.g. English) and are able to demonstrate syntactic/grammatical knowledge when interpreting phrases like these where the referent of the pronoun (he) cannot be found within the sentence. Or in other words, Superman is not a legitimate referent. 10 children on the autism spectrum (chronological ages 5;4 to 12;7; M = 10.5), classified as high functioning were tested on a specially developed TVJT that was presented on an iPad. The experimental findings showed that children with autism were as competent as a control group of typically developing children (matched on nonverbal IQ) on this task assessing their grammatical knowledge. Results indicate no deviance of grammatical development in contrast to other recent studies and highlight the importance of using a sensitive task for working with children with special needs.  

About the Speaker:

Neha is a Psychology (Honors) graduate from University of Delhi (Lady Shri Ram College) and a Master’s degree holder in Cognitive Science from University of Allahabad. She finally finished her PhD program at in 2015 and was supported by the International Post Graduate Research Scholarship (IPRS) for the tenure. She is interested in various aspects of child language development, social and cognitive psychology. Currently she a research scientist/post doctoral fellow at the Institute of High Performance Computing, A*Star, Singapore where she is investigating music as a tool for achieving emotional regulation and improved communication in children on the autism spectrum. 

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