de Marchena, A., & Eigsti, I. M. (in press). The art of common ground: Emergence of a complex pragmatic language skill in adolescents with autism spectrum disorders. Journal of Child Language.


Deficits in pragmatic language are central to autism spectrum disorder (ASD). Here we investigate common ground, a pragmatic language skill in which speakers adjust the contents of their speech based on their interlocutor’s perceived knowledge, in adolescents with ASD and typical development (TD), using an experimental narrative paradigm. Consistent with prior research, TD participants produced shorter narrations when they shared knowledge with an interlocutor, an effect not observed in participants with ASD. This effect was unrelated to general skills such as IQ or receptive vocabulary. In ASD, the effect was correlated with age, and with symptom severity: younger and more severely affected participants showed little evidence of referential shortening. Qualitative data suggested that participants with ASD were aware of common ground, and communicated differently in its presence, though not in the expected way. We conclude that common ground requires significant cognitive resources, particularly for those with weaknesses in social-communication skills.