Electronic Thesis and Dissertation Repository

Degree

Doctor of Philosophy

Program

Health and Rehabilitation Sciences

Supervisor

Dr. Janis Oram Cardy

Abstract

The goal of this research was to identify areas of strength and need in the academic abilities of students with high functioning autism spectrum disorder (HFASD).

Three studies were undertaken: 1) six meta-analyses investigated whether nonverbal IQ was in accordance with academic achievement scores in the areas of reading, writing, and math for students with HFASD; 2) the narrative writing skills of students with HFASD were examined in order to describe the ways their writing may differ from their typically developing (TD) peers; and 3) the persuasive writing of students with HFASD was examined to determine whether their texts resembled writer-based prose to a greater extent than their peers. Across all three studies, the role of language ability as a predictor of academic success was explored.

Results of the first study showed that students with HFASD were generally performing academically as would be expected by their Performance IQ. In addition, across all subject areas, there was great variability in student performance, such that some students with HFASD had strong academic skills and others had weaker skills. The second study demonstrated that the written narratives of students were HFASD were highly similar to those of their TD peers. However, the students with ASD were weaker in their use of narrative elements and form (narrative text structure, character development, integrating the inner worlds of their characters with the events in the story). The third study revealed that the persuasive writing of students with HFASD differed across several key indicators: syntactic complexity, lexical diversity, overall persuasive quality. As well, the texts of the group with HFASD could be characterized as writer-based prose to a greater extent than the texts of their peers. Finally, the importance of language ability in predicting academic achievement was confirmed across all studies.

The results of these studies highlighted the limitations of trying to characterize the academic skills of individuals with ASD using global scores of performance. The detailed descriptions of the written texts of students with ASD provided a critical foundation for developing educational interventions. These studies were the first of their kind.


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