Pragmatics, Cognitive Flexibility and Autism Spectrum Disorders

Mind and Language 27 (1):1-28 (2012)
Abstract
Pragmatic deficits of persons with autism spectrum disorders [ASDs] are often traced back to a dysfunction in Theory of Mind. However, the exact nature of the link between pragmatics and mindreading in autism is unclear. Pragmatic deficits in ASDs are not homogenous: in particular, while inter-subjective dimensions are affected, some other pragmatic capacities seem to be relatively preserved. Moreover, failure on classical false-belief tasks stems from executive problems that go beyond belief attribution; false-belief tasks require taking an alternative perspective on the reality. While this capacity is functional in typically developing young children, it is impaired in ASDs. Typically developing children are capable of taking their interlocutor's perspective into account when communicating, whereas poor cognitive flexibility makes it difficult for persons with ASDs to grasp the inter-subjective character of communicative stimuli. This analysis predicts that those pragmatic processes that amount to merely taking into account salient contextual facts during utterance interpretation, without necessarily adopting the interlocutor's perspective, may be preserved in ASDs
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