Publication date: February 2019
Source: Research in Autism Spectrum Disorders, Volume 58
Author(s): Ronit Saban-Bezalel, Dror Dolfin, Nathaniel Laor, Nira Mashal
Despite evidence suggesting that individuals with Autism Spectrum Disorder (ASD) may have difficulties in comprehension of figurative language, and irony in particular, previous studies examining this ability among individuals with (ASD) have reported inconsistent findings, resulting in different suggested etiologies of this difficulty. In view of the inconclusive findings, the current study assesses the contribution of various factors to irony comprehension, with specific focus on the association between mentalizing ability and irony comprehension.
Irony comprehension was examined in 20 individuals with ASD (age range 10–15) as compared to 20 typically developing (TD) peers (age range 10–15) through a task of reading ten ironic comics. Participants were matched by age, gender, vocabulary, executive function abilities, and their results on a second-order false-belief task. Their mentalizing abilities were examined by the Hinting Test for the ability to understand intentions.
A significant difference in irony comprehension was observed between the groups. Re-adjusting the group matching according to the Hinting Test scores eliminated the group difference in irony comprehension. Multilevel regression with logit link analysis showed that hinting and mental flexibility contributed to irony comprehension.
The study’s findings demonstrated that individuals with ASD showed adequate ability to comprehend irony but nonetheless were outperformed by TD peers (matched on age, language, ToM, and executive functioning abilities). A comparison of the two groups by their mentalizing abilities (through understanding intentions) revealed similar comprehension abilities. These findings highlight the importance of using several tools that each focus on different aspects of mentalizing when assessing this skill in studies of figurative language in ASD.