The Content and Structure of Autobiographical Memories in Children With and Without Asperger Syndrome

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Title: The Content and Structure of Autobiographical Memories in Children With and Without Asperger Syndrome
Author: Brown, Benjamin Thomas
Advisors: Lynne Baker-Ward, Ph.D., Committee Chair
Jason Allaire, Ph.D., Committee Member
Amy Halberstadt, Ph.D., Committee Member
Thomas Hess, Ph.D., Committee Member
Abstract: Severe difficulty in interacting with others is a defining characteristic of autism spectrum disorders. In addition, even high-functioning children with autism, such as those with Asperger Syndrome, demonstrate significant delays in Theory of Mind. Nelson and Fivush's (2004) comprehensive model of the development of autobiographical memory assigns central importance to the child's social interactions and emerging theory of mind. Children with Asperger Syndrome, however, have normal IQs and show no language delays. Thus, there was reason to suspect that children with Asperger Syndrome would show differences in their autobiographical memories when compared to typically developing children. A better understanding of the strengths and weaknesses in autobiographical memory found in children with Asperger Syndrome will help future intervention efforts. The present investigation examined the factors that influence the content and structure of emotional memory narratives in 7- to 13-year-old children with and without Asperger Syndrome. Children with Asperger Syndrome had a particularly difficult time self-generating negative memory narratives compared to their typically developing peers. Typically developing children infused a good deal of positive emotion in their self-generated negative memories, whereas children with Asperger syndrome did not. Children with Asperger Syndrome were also more likely to include negative emotions such as fear and anxiety in their narratives, regardless of memory type, than typically developing children. This group difference disappears when controlling for working memory, suggesting that children with higher levels of working memory are more likely to be able to bring meaning to an event for themselves. Finally, children with Asperger Syndrome provided less coherent memory narratives than their typically developing peers. Together, these findings suggest that children with Asperger Syndrome may be engaging less frequently in meaning-making activities.
Date: 2007-11-12
Degree: PhD
Discipline: Psychology

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