Loyola University Chicago

Department of Psychology


Elizabeth Hilvert

Elizabeth Hilvert
Training Track: Developmental
Lab: Emotion, Language, and Cognition in Neurotypical and Atypical Development Research Lab
Advisor: Denise Davidson, Ph.D.
Office: Coffey Hall 246


language and literacy development in typical and atypical development (e.g., Autism Spectrum Disorder)

Masters Thesis Title

Script and Non-script Based Narrative Retellings in Children with Autism Spectrum Disorders

Masters Thesis Abstract

Narrative production is challenging for children with Autism Spectrum Disorders (ASD), particularly in terms of creating coherent and cohesive stories.  However, differences between the narratives of children with and without ASD may be minimized when the cognitive and linguistic demands are reduced. Therefore, the present study examined whether incorporating a script-framework, that structures the story around common events, reduced difficulties with narratives. This study compared the narrative abilities of 19 children with ASD and 26 neurotypical (NT) children on a script-based and a non-script based retelling task.  Narratives were coded for microstructure macrostructure, and the types of events included in the script-based story (script, non-script). The relation between narrative and theory of mind (ToM) was also assessed. Unexpectedly, the narration of both stories was equally difficult for children with ASD for the majority of variables, including grammar, references, adverbials, connectivity, structure, and content, which resulted in narratives that were less cohesive and coherent than the NT group. Examination of the script-based story revealed that children with ASD included the same number of script details as the NT children, but were less likely to include non-script details. ToM ability was a strong predictor of coherence and cohesion in children with ASD. The difficulties with the script-based story appear to reflect general narrative impairments, instead of abnormalities in the representation of script knowledge. These findings provide evidence that narrative impairments may be pervasive across narrative type, and that ToM ability predicts these difficulties in children with ASD.

Masters Thesis Committee

Denise Davidson, Ph.D., Perla Gamez, Ph.D.

Dissertation Title

Characterization of Writing Development in Children with ASD: The Role of Language, Handwriting, and Cognitive Processing Ability

Dissertation Abstract

Despite the importance of writing for academic, social, and vocational outcomes, and evidence from standardized assessments that writing is often impaired in children and adults with Autism Spectrum Disorders (ASD), there is a paucity of research that has comprehensively investigated specific writing impairments across a variety of text genres, especially non-fictional writing, in this population. Even less empirical research has assessed the nature of written expression difficulties in children with ASD. This is important to understand considering that ASD is a heterogeneous disorder, where many children have impairments in handwriting, language, executive functioning, and theory of mind – skills which are essential for writing effectively. Therefore, the goal of my Dissertation is to bridge critical gaps in knowledge by: (1) comprehensively assessing writing skills in children with ASD (9-14 years) across text genres in comparison to their neurotypical (NT) peers, and (2) exploring the potential underlying mechanisms (i.e., handwriting, language, executive functioning, theory of mind) contributing to specific writing skills in children with ASD, taking into account age, language, handwriting, and cognitive processing abilities.

Dissertation Committee

Denise Davidson, Ph.D., Perla Gamez, Ph.D., Molly Losh, Ph.D., Cheryl Scott, Ph.D.