Communication Disorders Ph.D. Dissertations


Conversational Repair Strategies in Adolescents with Autism Spectrum Disorders

Date of Award


Document Type


Degree Name

Doctor of Philosophy (Ph.D.)


Communication Disorders/Speech-Language Pathology

First Advisor

Lynne Hewitt (Advisor)

Second Advisor

Elizabeth Burroughs (Committee Member)

Third Advisor

Lauren Katz (Committee Member)

Fourth Advisor

Mark Earley (Committee Member)

Fifth Advisor

Mary Hare (Committee Member)


The purpose of this case study was to explore the conversational repair responses of 3 adolescents with autism spectrum disorder (ASD) to communication breakdowns that occurred naturally in conversations. Adolescents with ASD are at the threshold of entry into independent living in society where their ability to manage communication breakdowns is essential. Of equal interest to the purposes of this study was describing how individuals with ASD were similar or different from each other in their sources of communication breakdowns, types of clarification requests, and repair responses used. The study used an embedded multiple-case study design to identify the sources of breakdowns, types of clarification requests made by the listener, and the types of repair responses used. Language samples were elicited across two conversational contexts (an Adult-Client context and a Peer with ASD context). A compiled coding system based on coding systems in the existing literature, pilot study findings, and those that emerged from the data was used to analyze the language samples.

Results showed that all 3 participants exhibited and repaired breakdowns. Although similarities existed between the 3 participants in the types of repair responses used, they differed from each other in the variety of repair strategies used to resolve the breakdowns. Furthermore, the use of a compiled coding system enabled the identification of a pattern of strengths and weaknesses for each participant when faced with a communication breakdown. Investigations of linguistic pragmatics in autism are needed because they will generate information essential in designing effective assessments, interventions and support. The findings of this study are discussed with respect to prior theory and research, and its implications for the clinical and research fields.