It takes two: Dynamics of conversation

One reason that face-to-face conversation may be difficult for many individuals on the autism spectrum is because multiple modalities of information (speech, eye contact, tone of voice) need to be integrated on the fly. We analysed all three of these modalities during natural conversations between school-age children and an adult partner. To look at patterns of eye gaze we had participants wear a head-mounted eye tracker.

We were also interested in how the topic of conversation might change these behaviours, so we compared conversations on neutral topics with those on either a child’s circumscribed interest (unusually intense interests that are common in autism),or their favourite hobby. One possibility is that speaking about a topic of strong interest may make children more engaged and reciprocal with their partner. On the other hand, these interests may be so consuming and perseverative in nature that they reduce reciprocal conversation.

Our findings indicated that, speaking about their circumscribed interest led children with ASD to be less adaptive to their partner verbally, but at the same time speaking about this highly practiced topic allowed for increased attention to their partner’s face. In more recent work on this topic, we have been examining how the timing of gaze to a partner’s face is coordinated with conversational turn exchanges.


Journal Articles

  1. Nadig A, Seth, S. & Sasson, M. (2015). Global Similarities and Multifaceted Differences in the Production of Partner-Specific Referential Pacts by Adults with Autism Spectrum Disorders, Frontiers in Psychology, 6:1888.
  2. Bang, J., Burns, J. & Nadig, A. (2013). Conveying subjectivity in conversation: Mental state terms and personal narratives in typical development and children with high functioning autism. Journal of Autism and Developmental Disorders, 43 (7), 1732-1740.
  3. Nadig, A., Lee, I., Singh, L., Bosshart, K. & Ozonoff, S. (2010). How does the topic of conversation affect verbal exchange and eye gaze? A comparison between typical development and high-functioning autism. Neuropsychologia, 48 (9), 2730-2739.
  4. Nadig, A., Vivanti, G. & Ozonoff, S. (2009). Object descriptions under different communicative demands: How do children with and without autism adapt? Autism Research, 2, 1-14.
  5. Nadig, A., & Sedivy, J. (2002). Evidence of perspective-taking constraints in children's on-line reference resolution. Psychological Science, 13 (4), 329-336.

Selected Conference Presentations

  1. Nadig, A. & Towsely, K. (2015, October 2). Coordinating gaze with conversational turn-taking in children with Autism Spectrum Disorders. Paper presented at the Max Planck Institute for Psycholinguistics Workshop: Perspectives on the ontogeny of mutual understanding, Nijmegen, The Netherlands.

Invited Talks

  1. Nadig, A. (2015). Pragmatic impairments in autism are not black and white: Evidence from conversation. Université du Québec à Montréal, Le Département de linguistique, Journée de la pragmatique, Montréal, Québec, Canada, March 27.

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