Interactional Challenges in Conversations with Autistic Preadolescents: The Role of Prosody and Nonverbal Communication in Other-Initiated Repairs

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This paper focusses on repair sequences occurring in institutional interaction with autistic preadolescents. More precisely, the paper discusses the role of prosodic and non-verbal features in situations where the participants of interaction have difficulties understanding each other. The discussion will include analysis of the prosodic and non-verbal features of trouble-source turns that launch other-initiated repairs. Methodologically, the study falls within the framework of conversation analysis (CA). The data consist of audio-visual material recorded from group therapy sessions during which 11- to 13-year-old Finnish-speaking boys afflicted with autism talk about their lives with one another and with their therapists.
The study findings suggest that certain prosodic and non-verbal features are often associated with trouble-source turns. For example, in 84% of the cases here, there is no eye contact between the speaker producing a trouble-source turn and the one who initiates the repair sequence. Sometimes the lack of eye contact is associated with overlapping speech (38%). Concerning the prosody, the most frequent feature is a creaky voice, which occurs in 35% of the trouble-source turns. A quiet voice (31%), large pitch excursions (24%), stretched syllables (18%) and jerky speech rhythms (16%) are examples of other prosodic features that could be found in the trouble-source turns of the data.
The results of this study demonstrate that ASD persons’ tendency to avoid direct eye contact as well as the occurrences of certain deviant prosodic features in their speech are factors that affect the fluidity of interaction and are related to the creation of understanding problems. However, only in a very few cases do non-verbal and prosodic features seem to be the main cause of the problem of understanding. The two most common causes of understanding problems in these data are overly literal interpretation of speech and topical discontinuities.
The study also gives new evidence about autistic persons’ pragmatic and interactional skills. Indeed, the data include passages in which the informants seem to have the ability to make certain inferences about the mental states of others. This is remarkable, because it is known that the ability in question is impaired in autism.
Translated title of the contributionVuorovaikutuksellisia haasteita autististen varhaisnuorten keskusteluissa: prosodian ja ei-kielellisen viestinnän rooli toisen aloittamissa korjauksissa
Original languageEnglish
JournalJournal of Pragmatics
Pages (from-to)76–97
Number of pages22
Publication statusPublished - Mar 2016
MoE publication typeA1 Journal article-refereed

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