Deficit or Difference? Cycling through the 4-Building-Blocks to Assess the Power of Context in Narrative Comprehension in Autistic and Typically Developing Adolescents: Comic vs. Text


Notions of accessibility bring to question the perceived deficits in narrative comprehension for autistic people. This deficit has been positioned as a cognitive processing disposition towards local coherence rather than global coherence. Rather than a unitary deficit in the individual, reduced performance on inferential narrative comprehension tasks may be an issue of modality. Repositioning Kintsch’s (1988) construction-integration theory as an ordinal continuum provides a basis for integrating other inferential-thinking frameworks, thus theorizing a new cognitive processing disposition. The Integrated Inferential Reasoning (IIR) continuum is anchored by Pearson and Johnson’s (1978) text-implicit questions-answer relations (QARs; local), and script-implicit QARs (global).

We present the history of the co-development of the IIR taxonomy and an instrument that measures IIR, using the BEAR Assessment System (BAS; Wilson, 2005). In this seminar we will narrate our journey through multiple iterations of BAS’ four building blocks. Through each iteration, refinements to the instrument informed the development and refinement of the underlying theories, which in turn informed further refinement of the instrument. For example, in the second iteration we introduced a new level of QAR in which the local and global clauses are integrated into one cohesive inferential response: This additional level proved to be a pivotal feature of IIR.

We subsequently leveraged both the theoretical knowledge and the instrument developed through multiple iterations of BAS in order to investigate the differential impact of narrative modality (comic-plus-text vs. text-only) on IIR between autistic (n=18) and neurotypical (n=112) adolescents. We found that although the autistic respondents presented deficits in IIR when answering inferential reasoning items following narratives in a traditional text-only format, the situation with the comic-plus-text format was more nuanced. Considering format alone, comic-plus-text did not promote IIR. However, autistic respondents with the highest level of self-rated comic experience performed comparably to their neurotypical peers on both formats. This is consistent with the view that comics are not just as a format, but also as a literacy. We present evidence that cognitive processing disposition varies as a function of context, providing alternate frameworks for thinking about autism and narrative meaning-making. This suggests that deficit explanations may be less powerful than a neurodiversity lens in characterizing the experiences of adolescents when they grapple with narrative accounts of social experiences.

Alexander Mario Blum, PhD received his PhD from the joint doctoral program in Special Education sponsored by the University of California, Berkeley, and San Francisco State University. Prior to starting his PhD, he served as a high school English teacher for students with special needs. He is interested in finding ways of promoting literacy and critical thinking, particularly for kids on the autism spectrum. His research lies at the intersection of autism, literacy and contemporary approaches to measurement. He currently is adjunct faculty at San Francisco State University where he teaches in the Special Education department.

Tuesday, September 3, 2019 - 2:00pm
Berkeley Way West
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