Deficit or Difference? Assessing Narrative Comprehension in Autistic and Typically Developing Individuals: Comic vs. Text
- Author(s): Blum, Alexander Mario
- Advisor(s): Pearson, P David
- Wolfberg, Pamela
- et al.
Notions of accessibility bring to question the perceived deficits in narrative comprehension for autistic people. This deficit has been positioned as having a cognitive processing disposition towards local coherence, rather than global coherence. Rather than a unitary deficit in the individual, reduced performance on inferential narrative comprehension tasks may be an issue of modality. This dissertation adds to research that challenges this unitary deficit assumption, by situating cognitive processing dispositions in different narrative modalities. Furthermore, this project unifies several prominent inferential frameworks, conceptualizing inferential thinking as a continuum of integration, rather than a set of discrete skills. Repositioning Kintsch’s (1988) construction-integration theory as an ordinal continuum provides a basis for integrating other inferential-thinking frameworks, and thus theorizing a new cognitive processing disposition. The Integrated Inferential Reasoning (IIR) continuum is anchored by Pearson and Johnson’s (1978) text-implicit questions-answer relations (QARs; local), and script-implicit QARs (global). Building off of the idea of degrees of integration, a new level of QAR is introduced, in which the local and global clauses are integrated into one cohesive inferential response. In this study, the impact of narrative modality (comic plus text versus text-only) on inferential reasoning is compared between and among autistic (n=18) and neurotypical adolescents (n=112). Although the autistic respondents presented deficits in IIR when answering inferential reasoning items following narratives in a traditional text-only format, the situation with the comic plus text format was more nuanced. Considering format alone, the comic plus text did not promote IIR. However, autistic respondents with the highest level of self-rated comic experience performed comparably to their neurotypical peers on both formats. This is consistent with viewing comics not just as a format, but as a literacy. I present evidence that cognitive processing disposition varies as a function of context. Autistic respondents had a different experience when engaging with narratives in either the comic plus text and text-only format. This line of research provides alternate frameworks for thinking about autism and narrative meaning making. The work suggests that deficit explanations may not be as powerful as a neurodiversity lens in characterizing the experiences of neurotypical and autistic adolescents when they grapple with narrative accounts of social experiences.