Social-communication studies in autism spectrum disorder



Social communication difficulties are one of core and the most disabling features of Autism spectrum disorder (ASD) affecting an individual’s quality of life impairing adjustment to peer groups, the workplace and society as whole. Social-pragmatic difficulties are evident already in the early childhood and they persist into adulthood even in the most capable normally intelligent individuals with ASD.


Main objectives of children’s studies are to investigate

1) social-pragmatic comprehension

2) narrative skills

3) mind-reading and emotion recognition skills


  • Pragma (A method which contains questions that measure context utilization, social language use and understanding of intentions, thoughts, beliefs and feelings, Loukusa et al. unpublished)

  • CCC-2 (Finnish version of Children’s Communication Checklist-2, Bishop, 2015)
  • Cat story (Picture based story generation task, Mäkinen et al., 2013)
  • ENNI (Edmonton Narrative Norms Instrument, Schneider et al., 2005)
  • Bus story (Renfrew, 1997)
  • NEPSY-II (Developmental Neuropsychological Assessment, Korkman et al., 2008) subtests:
    • Theory of Mind
    • Affect Recognition
    • Narrative Memory
    • Sentence Repetition
    • Word List Interference


  • Children with ASD have wide-ranging social-pragmatic inference difficulties which increase with the demand of mind-reading.
  • Difficulties in explaining their correct answers reflect metacognitive weaknesses in children with ASD.
  • Children with ASD show difficulties in pragmatic-based aspects of narration (i.e. event content, comprehension and the use of extraneous information). The linguistic structure of their narratives is quite intact.
  • Children with ASD show difficulties in tasks measuring emotion recognition and verbal ToM and but not in tasks measuring non-verbal Contextual ToM (NEPSY-II).


Main objectives of adults’ studies are

  1. to investigate what kind of strengths and weaknesses adolescents and young adults with ASD have in pragmatic language
  2. to investigate the direction of eyes and autonomic activity when looking at pragmatically challenging situations between individuals with ASD and their controls
  3. to compare the results of pragmatic comprehension tasks (answers and explanations) as a child (tested in the year 2003) to current pragmatic language abilities
  4. to combine information from the behavioral test results, narrative and discourse features and self-assessments in order to investigate widely how these individuals utilize and use multimodal information (facial expression, body language, prosody, verbal and physical context and world knowledge) in communication situations.
  5. to investigate neural activity when looking at pragmatically and socially multimodal film scenes demanding an understanding of pragmatically complex interaction.


  • Video clips demanding understanding socially complex communication situations
    • Comprehension
    • Discourse skills
  • ABaCo (Assessment Battery for Communication, Sacco et al., 2008)
  • Faux Pas Recognition Test (Stone et al., 1998)
  • FEFA (Bölte, 2002, The Frankfurt Test and Training of Facial Affect Recognition)
Neural and physiological signals (measured during looking at video clips)
  • fMRI
  • Eye-tracking
  • Skin electricity and heart-rate variation


Analysis ongoing.


Main funding

Finnish Academy, Finnish Cultural Foundation, The Finnish Brain Foundation


Main researchers in social communication studies in ASD: Soile Loukusa, Leena Mäkinen, Aija Kotila and Katja Dindar.


Contact information

Principal investigator

Soile Loukusa, PhD

Academy Research Fellow


Tel: +358 (0)294 48 3424


Last updated: 18.3.2019