Date of Completion


Embargo Period



Deborah Fein, Carl Coelho

Field of Study



Master of Arts

Open Access

Open Access


Individuals with autism spectrum disorders (ASD) are characterized by pragmatic language deficits, as difficulties with social communication are a universal deficit across the wide presentation the autism spectrum. The current studies examined narrative production as a measure of pragmatic language in adolescents with high-functioning autism (HFA), “optimal outcomes” (OO; i.e. individuals who have lost their previous diagnosis of ASD), and typical development (TD) using the informative “story goodness” coding system and real-world narrative quality ratings. In Study 1, adolescents with HFA and TD (mean age of 15) were compared on these measures of narrative quality. While the groups were similar in their narrative organization as measured by story grammar, the lower completeness scores of the HFA narratives trended towards significance. Raters naïve to diagnoses and study hypotheses rated the HFA group as having significantly lower scores of Story Cohesiveness and trended towards significantly lower scores of Story Goodness. In Study 2, the narrative quality of adolescents with HFA, OO, and TD (mean age of 13) was compared. While group differences were not seen on measures of story completeness or story grammar, naïve raters did detect group differences between HFA and TD in all four rating domains: Story Goodness, Story Cohesiveness, Story Accuracy, and Story Oddness, and between OO and TD in Story Goodness and Story Cohesiveness. In both Study 1 and Study 2, group differences emerged between HFA and TD in a broad measure of narrative quality, with the HFA group receiving significantly lower scores on this metric. These findings highlight the presence of pragmatic deficits in adolescents with HFA that are salient in the “real world” despite their comparable performance to their TD peers in other language domains. Furthermore, the findings support prior research that indicates while individuals with OO are similar to their TD peers across several domains (i.e. cognitive, achievement, and adaptive functioning), subtle pragmatic deficits remain in these individuals as evident in their narrative performance.

Major Advisor

Inge-Marie Eigsti