metaphorical and metonymical language use in children with ASD

Reviewing the literature on metaphor and metonymy usage/difficulties in children with Autism Spectrum Disorders, Sergio Melogno, Maria Antonietta Pinto, Gabriel Levi write:

“Linguistic and communicative difficulties in children with Autistic Spectrum Disorders (ASD) are frequently the focus of experimental research. In fact, these difficulties represent a central domain in autistic presentation (American Psychiatric Association (APA), 2000), and this heterogeneous clinical population shows not able within-group diversity. In particular, pragmatic deficits appear as distinctive features at different cognitive and linguistic levels with diverse manifestations.” (p.1289) They go on to explain that “Among these difficulties, specific problems with the processing of metaphors and metonimies have been found in fluent high-functioning individuals, although, to date, the vast majority of studies have focused on metaphors rather than metonymies.” (pp.1289-1290)

“The cognitive shortcut induced by metonymy or the analogical reasoning induced by metaphor does not merely give our thinking an advantage; it accelerates communication and makes it more incisive.” (p.1290)

“Beginning during the preschool years, young children produce unusual expressions when they rename objects by attributing unconventional names to them (the ‘‘renaming’’ process). Various studies note that those renamings are different from over-generalizations or semantic under-extensions, and they cannot be reduced to merely anomalous word usages (Billow,  1981; Elbers, 1988; Fourment, Emmenecker, & Pantz, 1987; Winner, 1979). Renamings have been explored in samples of spontaneous language (Billow, 1981; Fourment et al., 1987; Nerlich, Todd, & Clarke, 1998), using longitudinal studies (Winner, 1979) and experimental research that elicited this type of renaming (Winner, McCharty, & Gardner, 1980). Some of these renamings may be attributed a metaphorical value because the child possesses the conventional term for the renamed object, and for this reason, they have been viewed as manifestations of ‘‘first metaphors” (Verbrugge,1979).The most precocious typologies are represented by action-based metaphors, produced between 2 and 3 years of age, where in the child applies a symbolic action schema to a given object and then renames it, and perception-based metaphors, also called ‘‘sensorial metaphors’’, in which the linguistic substitution is based on perceptual similarities between objects (Winner, 1988). These metaphors become increasingly frequent between 4-and 5-years-olds.” (p.1290)

“These early metaphors gradually become more linguistically articulated, moving from context-embedded toward context-independent forms.” (p.1291)

“According to a traditional view regarding comprehension processes, an understanding of metaphors emerges late and only after a period where children are obviously tied to literal interpretations (‘‘the literal stage hypothesis,’’Vosniadou, 1987). This conception has gradually been developed from a pioneering study by Aschand Nerlove (1960) on dual-function adjectives (e.g.,‘‘hard’’,‘‘sweet’’,‘‘soft’’) that can be applied to objects in a physical sense and to people in a metaphorical sense. Children proceed through different stages and can explain the meanings of these adjectives at a genuine metaphorical level only when they are 11–12 years old.” (p.1291)

However, “Recent experimental data have been obtained by manipulating various methodological factors, such as the method of measuring metaphor comprehension, the specific typology of the metaphor explored and the context in which it appears.” (p.1291) “First,the understanding of metaphors does not arise as late as was thought in previous research and can be traced back to preschool age. Furthermore, the ability to understand metaphors does not seem to be an all-or-nothing phenomenon, because it may vary as a function of the type of metaphor. Thus, 5-year-old children can understand and even explain sensorial metaphors, at least at a basic level of complexity.” (p.1291)

The authors conclude: “The relationship between children with autism and metaphorical and metonymical language use has a relatively short experimental history but a lengthy past in clinical psychology. The experimental findings currently available are far from exhaustive, but they open many research avenues on the role of various linguistic and communicative factors. Future studies are likely to examine the notable variability in metaphorical and metonymical competencies in ASD children. This form of variability, in turn, could be considered a significant expression of broader variability in linguistic and communicative competencies in the autistic spectrum. Another interesting perspective for ASD experimental research would be to study overall developmental trajectories of metaphorical and metonymical competencies until young adulthood. Complete developmental profiles could reveal the most distinctive types of linguistic and communicative difficulties that these children experience.” (p.1295)

Ref: Sergio Melogno, Maria Antonietta Pinto, Gabriel Levi (2012) Review: Metaphor and Metonymy in ASD children: A critical review from a developmental perspective. Research in Autism Spectrum Disorders 6, pp.1289-1296


About backyardbooks

This blog is a kind of electronic storage locker for ideas and quotes that inform my research... literary research into fiction for young adults (with a special focus on New Zealand fiction). Kiwis are producing amazing literature for younger readers, but it isn't getting the academic appreciation it deserves. I hope readers of this blog can make use of the material I gather and share by way of promoting our fiction. Cheers!
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