Keywords: Figurative Language Processing; Metaphor; Autism; Language Development.
The main aim of this study was to test what language skills and competences predict the processing of metaphorical expressions in a priming lexical decision task in two groups of high functioning autistic participants (ASD) compared to age- and verbal comprehension matched controls, and whether Theory of Mind contributed to performance in the task. Our results suggest that different language predictors, but not Theory of Mind, exert an influence on the processing of metaphors at different stages of development in the autistic groups. Furthermore, we found that both control groups appear to have more developed understanding of figurative expressions and are at a stage beyond which structural language skills, vocabulary size and verbal comprehension no longer impact on figurative language competences. These results are consistent with other research demonstrating that figurative language development starts flattening out after age 10-12 (Vulchanova et al. 2011; Kempler et al. 1999). In contrast, figurative language comprehension appears to be still developing in the autistic groups of participants, where core language skills still exert an influence on performance.