Understanding of emotional experience in autism: Insights from the personal accounts of high-functioning children with autism

Molly Losh*, Lisa Capps

*Corresponding author for this work

Research output: Contribution to journalReview articlepeer-review

148 Scopus citations


In this study, the authors investigate emotional understanding in autism through a discourse analytic framework to provide a window into children's strategies for interpreting emotional versus nonemotional encounters and consider the implications for the mechanisms underlying emotional understanding in typical development. Accounts were analyzed for thematic content and discourse structure. Whereas high-functioning children with autism were able to discuss contextually appropriate accounts of simple emotions, their strategies for interpreting all types of emotional (but not nonemotional) experiences differed from those used by typically developing children. High-functioning children with autism were less inclined to organize their emotional accounts in personalized causal-explanatory frameworks and displayed a tendency to describe visually salient elements of experiences seldom observed among comparison children. Findings suggest that children with autism possess less coherent representations of emotional experiences and use alternative strategies for interpreting emotionally evocative encounters. Discussion focuses on the significance of these findings for informing the nature of emotional dysfunction in autism as well as implications for theories of emotional understanding in typical development.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Pages (from-to)809-818
Number of pages10
JournalDevelopmental psychology
Issue number5
StatePublished - Sep 2006


  • Asperger's syndrome
  • Autism
  • Child development
  • Emotion
  • Emotional experiences
  • Emotional understanding
  • Evocative encounters
  • Language

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • Demography
  • Developmental and Educational Psychology
  • Life-span and Life-course Studies


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