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Everyday narrative coherence in autistic adolescents

Harvey, A. (2023). Everyday narrative coherence in autistic adolescents. (Unpublished Doctoral thesis, City, University of London)



Spoken narrative skills are important for adolescents across many different contexts and can have a significant impact on academic attainment and social outcomes. Previous research into the narrative skills of autistic young people has produced conflicting findings; however, evidence to date indicates difficulties with macrostructure and coherence in spoken narrative accounts. Most previous work has focused on fictional narratives and there is little research into autistic adolescents’ abilities when recounting everyday events.


This study investigated the macrostructure and coherence of spoken narrative accounts by autistic adolescents aged 11-15 years (N=53), comparing them to a group of typically developing peers (N=57) matched on age, sex, non-verbal cognitive ability, and receptive and expressive language skills. Participants were instructed to describe ‘what happened’ after watching two short videos, chosen to replicate real-life instances of narrative production. Cognitive tasks measuring ‘theory of mind’ and ‘executive function’ were also administered, with the aim of exploring patterns of association between these constructs and narrative ability. Participants’ narratives were scored using both a ‘story grammar’ framework and a novel model for assessing ‘narrative coherence’ (‘6Cs’), developed from the findings of a systematic scoping review of existing methodologies in the literature. Group comparisons and multiple regression analyses were used to explore narrative abilities across the sample.


The scoping review indicated that some elements contributing to coherent discourse are not captured by typical macrostructural approaches (e.g., ‘story grammar’), indicating that it is useful to examine these aspects of narrative separately. In the study, non-autistic adolescents performed significantly better than autistic adolescents on measures of both ‘story grammar’ and ‘narrative coherence’, after accounting for age and linguistic and cognitive skills. Post-hoc analyses demonstrated that narrative length was a key factor contributing to this group difference. Investigation of the impact of cognitive variables on storytelling revealed that individual differences in ‘theory of mind’ predicted storytelling ability across both groups, whereas ‘executive function’ appeared to be less relevant to narrative production.


Autistic adolescents showed difficulties with macrostructure and coherence on a spoken narrative task, indicating that recounting events in everyday situations may be challenging for these young people. However, adolescents deemed ‘typically developing’, but who had poorer ToM ability, demonstrated similar narrative difficulties. The findings suggest that, regardless of diagnosis, some adolescents may require additional support in contexts where narrative discourse is required to explain ‘what happened’, for example, in school settings, or within the justice system.

Publication Type: Thesis (Doctoral)
Subjects: B Philosophy. Psychology. Religion > BF Psychology
Departments: School of Health & Psychological Sciences > Language & Communication Science
School of Health & Psychological Sciences > School of Health & Psychological Sciences Doctoral Theses
Doctoral Theses
[thumbnail of Harvey Thesis 2023 PDF-A_redacted.pdf] Text - Accepted Version
This document is not freely accessible until 31 December 2026 due to copyright restrictions.


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