Character Reference Choice in the Narratives by Persian-speaking Children With Autism Spectrum Disorder

  • Setareh Mojahedi Rezaeian ORCID Department of English Language and Literature, Faculty of Literature and Humanities, University of Sistan and Baluchestan, Zahedan, Iran.
  • Abbas Ali Ahangar ORCID Mail Department of English Language and Literature, Faculty of Literature and Humanities, University of Sistan and Baluchestan, Zahedan, Iran.
  • Peyman Hashemian ORCID Medical Genetics Research Centre, Mashhad University of Medical Sciences, Mashhad, Iran.
  • Mehrdad Mazaheri ORCID Department of Psychology, Faculty of Education and Psychology, University of Sistan and Baluchestan, Zahedan, Iran.
Narrative, Reference introduction, Reference reintroduction, Reference maintenance, Persian-speaking children, Autism


Introduction: The representation of the character reference in different statuses in the narrative is a multifaceted and complicated discourse task. Since Autism Spectrum Disorder (ASD) is interrelated with social and communication deficits; particularly, children with ASD face more challenges with this task. The present study aimed to examine the introduction, reintroduction, and maintenance of the characters reference by using different linguistic devices in the narratives produced by Persian-speaking children with High-Functioning Autism (HFA).
Materials and Methods: The narratives were elicited based on the picture story book “Frog, where are you?” Two groups of Persian-speaking children, aged 7, 9 and 11 years old, including high-functioning ASD (mean age: 9;5 y; mon) and a control group of Typically Developing (TD) ones (mean age: 9;1 y; mon), each group consisted of 24 subjects participated in this study. Then, the obtained data were analyzed by the Independent sample T Test and Nonparametric Mann-Whitney Test.
Results: The results demonstrated the children with ASD represented referential expressions significantly different from their peer group with regard to using some linguistic devices, in the reference introduction, reintroduction and maintenance (P<0.05). In particular, the use of noun phrases was dominant for introducing the narrative characters in the two groups under study. However, complete ellipsis was significantly used more by ASD subjects for introducing “the boy” character. In addition, TD children used noun phrases, independent pronouns, dependent pronouns and complete ellipsis for the reintroduction of the referents in their narratives more than autistic children. Finally, for the maintenance of “the boy” reference, whereas autistic children used more noun phrases, TD children frequently used complete ellipsis and inflection of verbs.
Conclusion: The choice of appropriate referential expressions for introduction, reintroduction and maintenance of the reference requires cognitive and linguistic skills, in which children with ASD showed deficits. Among these, reference reintroduction revealed the most challenging function for the children with ASD rather than TD children.


Boudreau DM. Narrative abilities in children with language impairments. In: Paul R, editor. Language Disorders From a Developmental Perspective. Mahwah, NJ: Lawrence Erlbaum Associates; 2007. [PMID]
Levinsohn SH. Self-instruction materials on narrative discourse analysis. Dallas: SIL International; 2015.
Rumelhart, DE. Notes on a schema for stories. In: Bobrow DG, Collins A, editors. Representation and Understanding: Studies in Cognitive Science. New York: Academic Press; 1975. [DOI:10.1016/B978-0-12-108550-6.50013-6]
Mäkinen L, Loukusa S, Nieminen L, Leinonen E, Kunnari S. The development of narrative productivity, syntactic complexity, referential cohesion and event content in four-to eight-year-old Finnish children. First Language. 2013; 34(1):24–42. [DOI:10.1177/0142723713511000]
Westerveld, MF, Moran CA. Spoken expository discourse of children and adolescents: Retelling versus generation. Clinical Linguistics & Phonetics. 2013; 27:720–34. [DOI:10.3109/02699206.2013.802016] [PMID]
Kibrik AA. Reference in discourse. Oxford: Oxford University Press; 2011. [DOI:10.1093/acprof:oso/9780199215805.001.0001] [PMID]
Krauss, RM, Chiu, CY. Language and social behavior. In: Gilbert DT, Fiske ST, Lindzey G, editors. The handbook of social psychology. New York: McGraw-Hill; 1998. [PMID]
Ravid D, Tolchinsky L. Developing linguistic literacy: A comprehensive model. Journal of Child Language. 2002; 29(2):417-47. [DOI:10.1017/S0305000902005111] [PMID]
Snow CE. The theoretical basis for relationships between language and literacy in development. Journal of Research in Childhood Education. 1991; 6(1):5–10. [DOI:10.1080/02568549109594817]
Karmiloff-Smith A. Beyond modularity: A developmental perspective on cognitive science. Cambridge: MIT Press; 1995.
Petersen DB. A systematic review of narrative-based language intervention with children who have language impairment. Communication Disorders Quarterly. 2010; 32(4):207–20. [DOI:10.1177/1525740109353937]
Carroll DW. Psychology of language. Belmont: Thomson Wadsworth; 2008.
Justice LM, Bowles R, Pence K, Gosse C. A scalable tool for assessing children’s language abilities within a narrative context: The NAP (Narrative Assessment Protocol). Early Childhood Research Quarterly. 2010; 25(2):218-34. [DOI:10.1016/j.ecresq.2009.11.002]
Liles BZ. Production and comprehension of narrative discourse in normal and language disordered children. Journal of Communication Disorders. 1985; 18(6):409–27. [DOI:10.1016/0021-9924(85)90030-9]
Pinto G, Tarchi C, Bigozzi L. Development in narrative competences from oral to written stories in five-to seven-year-old children. Early Childhood Research Quarterly. 2016; 36:1–10. [DOI:10.1016/j.ecresq.2015.12.001]
Dooley RA, Levinsohn SH. Analyzing discourse: A manual of basic concepts. Dallas: SIL International; 2000.
Givon T. Topic continuity in discourse: A quantitative cross-language study. Amsterdam: John Benjamins Publishing Company; 1983.
Arnold JE, Bennetto L, Diehl JJ. Reference production in young speakers with and without autism: Effects of discourse status and processing constraints. Cognition. 2009; 110(2):131–46. [DOI:10.1016/j.cognition.2008.10.016] [PMID] [PMCID]
Gundel JK, Hedberg N, Zacharski R. Cognitive status and the form of referring expressions. JSTOR. 1993; 69(2):274–307. [DOI:10.2307/416535]
Dabir-Moqaddam, M. [Theoretical linguistics: Emergence and development of the generative grammar (Persian)]. Tehran: SAMT; 2010.
Roberts JR, Barjasteh Delforooz B, Jahani C. A study of Persian discourse structure. Amsterdam: Acta Universitatis Upsaliensis; 2009.
Smith CS. Modes of discourse: The local structure of texts (Vol. 103). Cambridge: Cambridge University Press; 2003.
Hickmann, M. Children’s discourse: Person, space and time across languages. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press; 2004.
Aksu-Koç A, Nicolopoulou A. Character reference in young children’s narratives: A crosslinguistic comparison of English, Greek, and Turkish. Lingua. 2015; 155:62-84. [DOI:10.1016/j.lingua.2014.04.006]
Norbury CF, Bishop DVM. Narrative skills of children with communication impairments. International Journal of Language & Communication Disorders. 2003; 38(3):287–313. [DOI:10.1080/136820310000108133] [PMID]
Ariel, M. Accessing noun-phrase antecedents (rle linguistics b: Grammar). London: Routledge; 2014. [DOI:10.4324/9781315857473]
Arnold JE, Griffin ZM. The effect of additional characters on choice of referring expression: Everyone counts. Journal of Memory and Language. 2007; 56(4):521-536. [DOI:10.1016/j.jml.2006.09.007] [PMID] [PMCID]
Bard EG, Aylett, MP. Referential form, word duration, and modeling the listener in spoken dialogue. In: Trueswell JC, Tanenhaus, MK, editors. Approaches to Studying World-Situated Language use: Bridging the Language-as-Product and Language-as-Action Traditions. Cambridge: MIT Press; 2004.
Chafe WL. Discourse, consciousness, and time. Chicago: Chicago University Press; 1994.
Fukumura K, Van Gompel RPG, Pickering MJ. The use of visual context during the production of referring expressions. Quarterly Journal of Experimental Psychology. 2010; 63(9):1700-15. [DOI:10.1080/17470210903490969] [PMID]
Karmiloff-Smith A. Language and cognitive processes from a developmental perspective. Informa UK Limited. 1985; 1(1):61-85. [DOI:10.1080/01690968508402071]
Hickmann M, Hendriks H. Cohesion and anaphora in children’s narratives: A comparison of English, French, German, and Mandarin Chinese. Journal of Child Language. 1999; 26(2):419-452. [DOI:10.1017/S0305000999003785] [PMID]
Wong AMY, Johnston JR. The development of discourse referencing in Cantonese-speaking children. Journal of Child Language. 2004; 31(3):633–6. [DOI:10.1017/S030500090400604X]
Arnold JE. Reference production: Production-internal and addressee-oriented processes. Language and Cognitive Processes. 2008; 23(4):495–527. [DOI:10.1080/01690960801920099]
American Psychiatric Association. Diagnostic and statistical manual of mental disorders (5th edition). Washington, DC: American Psychiatric Association; 2013.
Tager-Flusberg H. A psychological approach to understanding the social and language impairments of autism. International Review of Psychiatry. 1999; 11(4):325–34. [DOI:10.1080/09540269974203] [PMID] [PMCID]
Losh M, Capps L. Narrative ability in high-functioning children with autism or Asperger’s syndrome. Journal of Autism and Developmental Disorders. 2003; 33(3):239–51. [DOI:10.1023/A:1024446215446] [PMID]
Novogrodsky R. Subject pronoun use by children with Autism Spectrum Disorders (ASD). Clinical Linguistics & Phonetics. 2013; 27(2):85–93. [DOI: 10.3109/02699206] [DOI:10.3109/02699206.2012.742567] [PMID]
Banney RM, Harper Hill, K, Arnott WL. The Autism diagnostic observation schedule and narrative assessment: Evidence for specific narrative impairments in autism spectrum disorders. International Journal of Speech-Language Pathology. 2015; 17(2):159-71. [DOI:10.3109/17549507.2014.977348] [PMID]
Tager Flusberg H, Paul R, Lord C. Language and communication in autism. In: Volkmar, FR, Klin, A, Cohen, DJ, editors. Handbook of Autism and Pervasive Developmental Disorders: Diagnosis, Development, Neurobiology, and Behavior. Hoboken, NJ: John Wiley and Sons, Inc; 2005.
Taylor LJ, Whitehouse AJ. Autism spectrum disorder, language disorder, and social (pragmatic) communication disorder: overlaps, distinguishing features, and clinical implications. Australian Psychologist. 2016; 51(4):287-95. [DOI:10.1111/ap.12222]
Fortea IB, Forner CB, Colomer C, Casas AM, Miranda BR. Communicative skills in Spanish children with Autism Spectrum Disorder and children with Attention Deficit Hyperactivity Disorder. Analysis through parents’ perceptions and narrative production. Research in Autism Spectrum Disorders. 2018; 50:22-31. [DOI:10.1016/j.rasd.2018.02.006]
Sah W, Torng P. Narrative coherence of Mandarin-speaking children with high-functioning autism spectrum disorder: An investigation into causal relations. First Language. 2015; 35(3):189-212. [DOI:10.1177/0142723715584227]
Tager-Flusberg H. Once upon a ribbit: Stories narrated by autistic children. British Journal of Developmental Psychology. 1995; 13(1):45–59. [DOI:10.1111/j.2044-835X.1995.tb00663.x]
Tager-Flusberg H, Sullivan K. Attributing mental states to story characters: A comparison of narratives produced by autistic and mentally retarded individuals. Applied Psycholinguistics. 1995; 16(3):241–56. [DOI:10.1017/S0142716400007281] [DOI:10.1017/S0142716400007281]
Vermeulen P. Context blindness in Autism Spectrum Disorder: Not using the forest to see the trees as trees. Focus on Autism and other developmental disabilities. 2015; 30(3):182–92. [DOI:10.1177/1088357614528799] [DOI:10.1177/1088357614528799]
Baltaxe CAM. Pragmatic deficits in the language of autistic adolescents. Journal of Pediatric Psychology. 1977; 2(7):176-80. [DOI:10.1093/jpepsy/2.4.176]
Diehl JJ, Bennetto L, Young EC. Story recall and narrative coherence of high-functioning children with autism spectrum disorders. Journal of Abnormal Child Psychology. 2006; 34(1):83-98. [DOI:10.1007/s10802-005-9003-x] [PMID]
Lindgren KA, Folstein SE, Tomblin JB, Tager Flusberg, H. Language and reading abilities of children with autism spectrum disorders and specific language impairment and their first‐degree relatives. Autism Research. 2009; 2(1):22-38. [DOI:10.1002/aur.63] [PMID] [PMCID]
Gilliam JE. GARS-2: Gilliam autism rating scale. London: Pearson; 2005.
Ahmadi SJ, Safari T, Hemmatian M, Khalili Z. [The psychometric properties of Gilliam Autism Rating Scale (GARS) (Persian)]. Research of Cognitive and Behavioral Sciences. 2011; 1(1):87-104.
Yousefi N, Dadgar H, Mohammadi MR, Jalilevand N, Keyhani MR, Mehri A. [The validity and reliability of Autism Behavior Checklist in Iran (Persian)]. Iranian journal of Psychiatry. 2015; 10(3):144-9. [PMID] [PMCID]
Kasechi M. [Validity and reliability of Persian version of Autism Spectrum Screening Questionnaire (Persian)] [MSc. Thesis]. Tehran: University of Social Welfare and Rehabilitation; 2011.
Shahim S. Adaptation and standardization of wechsler Intelligence scale for children revised (WISC-R). Shiraz: University of Shiraz. 5th edition; 2009.
Owens Jr RE. Language development: An introduction. London: Pearson; 2012.
Mayer M. Frog, where are you? New York: Dial Press; 1969.
Berman RA, Slobin DI. Relating events in narrative: A crosslinguistic developmental study. Hillsdale, NJ: Erlbaum; 1994.
Serratrice L. Referential cohesion in the narratives of bilingual English-Italian children and monolingual peers. Journal of Pragmatics. 2007; 39(6):1058–87. [DOI:10.1016/j.pragma.2006.10.001]
Botting N. Narrative as a clinical tool for the assessment of linguistic and pragmatic impairments. Child Language Teaching and Therapy. 2002; 18(1):1–22. [DOI:10.1191/0265659002ct224oa]
Duinmeijer I, Jong JD, Scheper A. Narrative abilities, memory and attention in children with a specific language impairment. International Journal of Language and Communication Disorders. 2012; 47(5):542–55. [DOI:10.1111/j.1460-6984.2012.00164.x] [PMID]
Reilly J, Losh M, Bellugi U, Wulfeck B. “Frog, where are you?” Narratives in children with specific language impairment, early focal brain injury, and Williams syndrome. Brain and Language. 2004; 88(2):229–47. [DOI:10.1016/S0093-934X(03)00101-9]
Fey ME, Catts HW, Proctor Williams K, Tomblin JB, Zhang X. Oral and written story composition skills of children with language impairment. Journal of Speech, Language, and Hearing Research. 2004; 47(6):1301-18. [DOI:10.1044/1092-4388(2004/098)]
Hughes D, McGillivray L, Schmidek M. Guide to narrative language: Procedures for assessment. Menomonie: Eau Claire Wisconsin, Thinking; 1997.
Justice LM, Bowles RP, Kaderavek JN, Ukrainetz TA, Eisenberg SL, Gillam RB. The index of narrative microstructure: A clinical tool for analyzing school-age children’s narrative performances. American Journal of Speech-Language Pathology. 2006; 15(2):177-191. [DOI:10.1044/1058-0360(2006/017)]
Bennetto L, Pennington BF, Rogers SJ. Intact and impaired memory functions in autism. Child Development. 1996; 67(4):1816-35. [DOI:10.2307/1131734] [PMID]
Joseph RM, Steele SD, Meyer E, Tager-Flusberg H. Selfordered pointing in children with autism: Failure to use verbal mediation in the service of working memory? Neuropsychologia. 2005; 43(10):1400-11. [DOI:10.1016/j.neuropsychologia.2005.01.010] [PMID]
How to Cite
Mojahedi Rezaeian S, Ali Ahangar A, Hashemian P, Mazaheri M. Character Reference Choice in the Narratives by Persian-speaking Children With Autism Spectrum Disorder. jmr. 12(1):45-60.
Research Article(s)