Referential communication and pragmatics in the expressive language of children with Williams syndrome
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Although children with Williams syndrome (WS) have high social interest and a relative strength in concrete vocabulary, research suggests that they have weaknesses in pragmatic aspects of language (Asada, Tomiwa, Okada, & ltakura, 2010; John & Mervis, 2010; Stojanovik, 2006). The current study investigated the children's referential communication skill, communication repair skill, and communicative style in the context of a collaborative game. Twenty-one children with WS ages 5.2 to 12.9 years were compared to two groups of typically developing children: 20 matched on chronological age (CA) and 20 matched on verbal mental age (VMA). Each child "built" a farm or a wildlife park with the experimenter by placing toy objects on their photos on a large mat. During each trial, the child was required to inform the experimenter of which toy to place next, based on the photograph on a card visible only to the child. There were six target trials where the toy pictured on the card was non-unique, therefore the child needed to provide a distinguishing attribute in order to allow the experimenter to select the intended item of the pair of the same identity toys. Dependent variables included the number of adequately informative referential expressions, percentage of successful communicative repairs, use of nonverbal communication, and use of polite words. The children with WS provided adequate referential information less often than their CA and VMA peers, suggesting difficulties in evaluating the informational needs of their activity partner. These results are consistent with other findings of deficits in the pragmatic use of productive language by children with WS assessed in conversational or narrative tasks (Stojanovik, 2006). However, when the experimenter made clear that the information was not sufficient by requesting clarification, the children with WS generally succeeded at providing adequate clarifying information and did not differ from either group of peers. No group differences were found in use of nonverbal communication or of polite words. Clinical implications are discussed, as well as the need for further research of the pragmatic profile of children with WS and specifically the effectiveness of intervention to improve their pragmatic skill and communicative success.
Thesis (M.S.)--Boston University