A recent study questioned the adherence of children with Autism Spectrum Disorders (ASD) to a linguistic constraint on the use of reflexive pronouns (Principle A) in sentences like Bart's dad is touching himself. This led researchers to question whether children with ASD are able to compute the hierarchical structural relationship of c-command, and raised the possibility that the children rely on a linear strategy for reference assignment. The current study investigates the status of c-command in children with ASD by testing their interpretation of sentences like (1) and (2) that tease apart use of c-command and a linear strategy for reference assignment. (1) The girl who stayed up late will not get a dime or a jewel (C-command) (2) The girl who didn't go to sleep will get a dime or a jewel (Non C-command) These examples both contain negation (not or didn't) and disjunction (or). In (1), negation c-commands the disjunction phrase, yielding a conjunctive entailment. This gives rise to the meaning that the girl who stayed up late won't get a dime and she won't get a jewel. In (2), negation is positioned inside a relative clause and it does not c-command disjunction. Therefore, no conjunctive entailment follows. Thus, (2) is true if the girl just gets a dime or just a jewel, or possibly both. If children with ASD lack c-command, then (1) will not give rise to a conjunctive entailment. In this case, children might rely on a linear strategy for reference assignment. Since negation precedes disjunction in both (1) and (2), they might be interpreted in a similar manner. Likewise, children who show knowledge of c-command should perform well on sentences governed by Principle A. These hypotheses were tested in experiments with 12 Australian children with HFA, aged 5;4 to 12;7, and 12 typically-developing controls, matched on non-verbal IQ. There was no significant difference in the pattern of responses by children with HFA and the control children on either (1) and (2) or the Principle A sentences. The findings provide preliminary support for the proposal that knowledge of c-command and Principle A is intact in HFA children.
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- grammatical development