What’s the story? A computational analysis of narrative competence in autism

Michelle Lee, Gary E. Martin, Abigail Hogan, Deanna Hano, Peter C. Gordon, Molly Losh*

*Corresponding author for this work

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

31 Scopus citations


Individuals with autism spectrum disorder demonstrate narrative (i.e. storytelling) difficulties which can significantly impact their ability to form and maintain social relationships. However, existing research has not comprehensively documented these impairments in more open-ended, emotionally evocative situations common to daily interactions. Computational linguistic measures offer a promising complement to traditional hand-coding methods of narrative analysis and in this study were applied together with hand coding of narratives elicited with emotionally salient scenes from the Thematic Apperception Test. In total, 19 individuals with autism spectrum disorder and 14 typically developing controls were asked to tell stories about six images from the Thematic Apperception Test. Both structural and qualitative aspects of narrative were assessed using a hand-coding system and Latent Semantic Analysis, an automated computational measure of semantic similarity. Individuals with autism spectrum disorder demonstrated significant difficulties with the use of complex syntax to integrate their narratives and problems explaining characters’ intentions. These and other key narrative skills were strongly related to narrative competence scores derived from Latent Semantic Analysis, which also distinguished the autism spectrum disorder group from controls. Together, results underscore key narrative impairments in autism spectrum disorder and support the promise of Latent Semantic Analysis as a valuable tool for the quantitative assessment of complex language abilities.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Pages (from-to)335-344
Number of pages10
Issue number3
StatePublished - Apr 1 2018


  • autism spectrum disorder
  • communication and language
  • narrative

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • Developmental and Educational Psychology


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