'Autistics do have language skills'
Although they have problems with metaphors and ironies, autistics can use language appropriately in social situations.health and fitness Updated: Apr 29, 2008 18:38 IST
The language skills of autistics are not as wanting as believed with most displaying adequate "literal pragmatic" abilities, says a new study.
In linguistic terms, "pragmatics" refers to the ability to use language appropriately in social situations.
People with Autism Spectrum Disorder (ASD) are believed to lack the ability to make appropriate use of context or knowledge and decide what is "reasonable to say" in a particular context.
Most glaringly, many individuals with ASD have immense trouble understanding metaphor, irony, sarcasm, and what might be presumed, but not stated.
But, according to philosophy professor Robert Stainton and clinical linguist Jessica de Villiers, many individuals with ASD do have "a rich array of pragmatic abilities".
They do not contest the well-established claim that people with ASD have difficulty with non-literal pragmatics, such as metaphors ('Juliet is the sun') or irony/sarcasm ('Boy, is that a good idea').
The researchers, however, found that many with ASD do not show the same difficulty with literal pragmatics. For instance, the phrase, "I took the subway north".
The use of the word "the" could indicate there is only one subway in existence going north. "The subway" could also be referring to a subway car, a subway system or a subway tunnel. Taking account of the context and the listener's expectations, however, the individual using the phrase was able to convey the specific meaning he intended. That is, he used pragmatics effectively.
By giving these examples, Stainton and his colleagues produced surprising evidence to show that speakers with ASD use and understand pragmatics in cases of literal talk.