Date of Award

Spring 6-3-2019

Document Type


Degree Name

Doctor of Philosophy in Clinical Psychology (PhD)


Clinical Psychology

First Advisor/Committee Member

Bev J. Wilson, Ph.D.

Second Advisor/Committee Member

Lynette Bikos, Ph.D.

Third Advisor/Committee Member

Elizabeth Viney, Ph.D.


Children with autism spectrum disorder (ASD) exhibit marked social communication impairments. Research suggests that these deficits often lead to delays in adaptive behavior, such as adaptive communication. In this study, I examined the roles of two social constructs, pragmatic language and theory of mind (ToM), in the adaptive communication abilities of young children with and without ASD. Thirteen children with ASD (31% female; M age = 58.08 months) and 24 children with typical development (58% female; M age = 52.42 months) between the ages of 3:0 and 6:5 were assessed. Adaptive communication was measured by the Functional Communication subscale of the Behavior Assessment System for Children, Second Edition (Reynolds & Kamphaus, 2004). Pragmatic language ability was assessed by the Comprehensive Assessment of Spoken Language (CASL; Carrow-Woolfolk, 1999). ToM was measured through a battery of laboratory tasks. Results indicated significant direct effects of status on adaptive communication [F(1, 35) = 28.61, p < .001], status (i.e., TD vs. ASD) on pragmatic language [F(1, 35) = 8.17, p = .001], and pragmatics on ToM [F(1, 35) = 7.03, p = .01]. Results did not support the hypotheses that the relation between status and adaptive communication would be mediated by pragmatic language alone, ToM alone, or pragmatic language predicting ToM. Post hoc analyses showed scores on each measure were trending in the predicted directions when compared to past literature. This indicates promise for future research replicating the study. Additionally, exploratory analyses showed that only children with ASD had at-risk or clinically significant pragmatic and/or adaptive communication skills. While it has been previously shown that older children with ASD (ages six through adolescence) demonstrate pragmatic language deficits than children with TD, this relation has not been examined in younger children. These results may help inform therapy goals for young children with ASD. It may be beneficial for children with ASD as young as three years old to begin working on improving their pragmatic language skills. The study’s strengths include the population sampled (i.e., young children with ASD compared to children with TD who have average or greater verbal abilities).