Conversational Alignment

Conversational differences are often the first thing people notice about autistic children. Conversations between neurotypical and autistic children can seem misaligned. Some people think these conversational patterns are because of differences in how different groups infer thoughts and feelings in others, but it is not clear exactly how these differences might affect communication involving autistic children, and particularly language production in autism.

Our research is investigating autistic children’s conversation by focusing on conversational alignment: the tendency for partners to imitate each other’s use of language (e.g., using the same words and structures). This alignment seems to be important for both effective communication and satisfying interactions. Our research looks at whether autistic children show different patterns of alignment, in ways that might explain some of the communication difficulties experienced. We investigate whether autistic children spontaneously align with a conversational partner, and whether they do so in the same ways as neurotypical children. By studying typically developing children as well as autistic children, we will also learn more about the typical development of communication skills.

The power to communicate our needs and views effectively is important for participating in society, and it can be blocked for many autistic people. We hope that our research will help us understand more about communication differences. This can in turn help in finding new ways to provide education and support to increase effective communication and to enhance quality of life and social participation of autistic people.

We have copies of some of our published research papers here.

We occasionally add a blog entry to summarise our findings so far, in plain language. The first blog gives a summary of the background, aims and some of the early studies.