Pragmatic and Conversational Features of Arabic-Speaking Adolescents with Autism Spectrum Disorder (ASD): Examining performance and caregivers’ perceptions

Electronic versions


  • Wesam Almehmadi

    Research areas

  • PhD, School of Languages, Literature and Linguistics, autism/spectrum disorder (ASD), pragmatics ability, discourse management, communicative function, conservational repair, presupposition


Background. This study investigates the features of pragmatic and conversational skills in the language of Arabic-speaking adolescents with Autism Spectrum Disorder (ASD) by comparing them with typically developing (TD) Arabic-speaking adolescents in Saudi Arabia. It aims to identify the differences in the pragmatic behaviours of the two groups (ASD and TD) with respect to four main pragmatic areas: discourse management, communicative functions, conversational repair and presupposition abilities. Impairments in these areas are the most commonly reported pragmatic deficits among people with ASD and
impede their ability to conduct conversations successfully. This study addresses the gap in research on adolescents with ASD in Saudi Arabia and the lack of tools to evaluate pragmatic competence and impairment in the Arabic language. It further addresses methodological limitations of previous studies on pragmatic skills in ASD.
Methods. 15 Arabic-speaking Saudi adolescents with ASD and a control group of 15 Arabic-speaking Saudi TD adolescents participated in this study as well as their caregivers. The adolescents were matched for gender (10 male and 5 female in each group, TD and ASD); first language (Arabic); and verbal ability. All participants were in the normal IQ range. A comprehensive, mixed-methods approach was used to assess the pragmatic and conversational skills of the adolescents, including both direct and indirect measures from two sources of information, the adolescent participants and their caregivers, and both quantitative and qualitative methods. Data were collected on the adolescents’ performances using semistructured conversations with the Yale in vivo Pragmatic Protocol (YiPP; Simmons et al., 2014), and natural language samples. In addition, a caregiver questionnaire, the Pragmatics Profile of Everyday Communication Skills (PPECS; Dewart and Summers, 1996) was used to collect data on the caregivers’ perceptions of the adolescents’ abilities. Result of the YiPP
and the PPECS were statistically analysed and language samples were analysed using discourse analysis methods.
Results. Findings based on both the adolescents’ performances and the caregivers’ perceptions show an overall deficit in the pragmatic and conversational skills of adolescents with ASD compared to their TD peers. However, variations were found in the pragmatic performances of participants with ASD, especially in their caregivers’ ratings, and pragmatic strengths were reported in some areas. Both the adolescents’ performances and the
caregivers’ ratings show that adolescents with ASD have deficits in their conversational repair and presupposition abilities. In the discourse management domain, the TD adolescents performed significantly better than adolescents with ASD in the pragmatic areas of turntaking, topic maintenance, and topic initiation. Yet, the caregivers did not detect differences between the two groups in these discourse management abilities. Moreover, the caregivers reported that adolescents with ASD have issues related to pragmatic behaviours, such as
rejecting and terminating conversations; whereas, these difficulties were not found in the adolescents’ performances. These variations may be the result of a number of social and environmental factors that may have facilitated their communication.
Conclusion. This study has significant implications for both ASD interventions and assessment. It provides a comprehensive assessment approach for measuring pragmatic skills, including both direct (participants’ performances) and indirect (caregivers’ perceptions) measures. Variations found in the adolescents’ skills indicate that more personalised intervention programmes are needed to address their pragmatic difficulties and utilise their strengths. Future research may benefit from adopting the combined approach used in this study to explore pragmatics in ASD. Differences between caregivers’ perceptions and the performances of individuals with ASD should be considered, as well as the influence of various factors on their communication.


Original languageEnglish
Awarding Institution
Thesis sponsors
  • Saudia Arabia Cultural Bureau, London
Award date30 Sep 2019