Accounting for the preference for literal meanings in ASC

Mind and Language (forthcoming)
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Impairments in pragmatic abilities, that is, difficulties with appropriate use and interpretation of language – in particular, non-literal uses of language – are considered a hallmark of Autism Spectrum Conditions (ASC). Despite considerable research attention, these pragmatic difficulties are poorly understood. In this paper, we discuss and evaluate existing hypotheses regarding the literalism of ASC individuals, that is, their tendency for literal interpretations of non-literal communicative intentions, and link them to accounts of pragmatic development in neurotypical children. We present evidence that reveals a developmental stage at which neurotypical children also have a tendency for literal interpretations and provide a possible explanation for such behaviour, one that links it to other behavioural, rule-following, patterns typical of that age. We then discuss extant evidence that shows that strict adherence to rules is also a widespread feature in ASC, and suggest that literalism might be linked to such rule-following behaviour.

Author Profiles

Agustin Vicente
University of the Basque Country
Ingrid Lossius Falkum
University of Oslo


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