Selective Pragmatic Impairment in Autism Spectrum Disorder: Indirect Requests Versus Irony

J Autism Dev Disord. 2018 Sep;48(9):2938-2952. doi: 10.1007/s10803-018-3561-6.


Autism Spectrum Disorder (ASD) is often described as being characterised by a uniform pragmatic impairment. However, recent evidence suggests that some areas of pragmatic functioning are preserved. This study seeks to determine to which extent context-based derivation of non-linguistically encoded meaning is functional in ASD. We compare the performance of 24 adults with ASD, and matched neuro-typical adults in two act-out pragmatic tasks. The first task examines generation of indirect request interpretations, and the second the comprehension of irony. Intact contextual comprehension of indirect requests contrasts with marked difficulties in understanding irony. These results suggest that preserved pragmatics in ASD is limited to egocentric processing of context, which does not rely on assumptions about the speaker's mental states.

Keywords: Autism; Communication; Executive function; Eye-tracking; Indirect speech acts; Irony; Pragmatics; Request; Social motivation.

Publication types

  • Comparative Study

MeSH terms

  • Adolescent
  • Adult
  • Autism Spectrum Disorder / diagnosis*
  • Autism Spectrum Disorder / psychology*
  • Comprehension / physiology*
  • Executive Function / physiology*
  • Female
  • Humans
  • Male
  • Middle Aged
  • Photic Stimulation / methods
  • Psychomotor Performance / physiology
  • Social Skills*
  • Young Adult