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Instant Messenger Use by Individuals with Asperger's Syndrome

Coburn, Kelly L. (2009) Instant Messenger Use by Individuals with Asperger's Syndrome. Undergraduate Thesis, University of Pittsburgh. (Unpublished)

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Asperger's Syndrome is an autism spectrum disorder in which patients generally exhibit average or above-average intelligence and linguistic ability, but considerable difficulty building social relationships. Its incidence has increased greatly since the 1990s. Also since the 1990s, personal computers have come into wide use as tools not only for work, but also for social communication (Baron, 1998). Computer-mediated communication (CMC) technologies, such as instant messaging (IM), have become very popular with the general public in this time frame.In order to determine whether IM will be a useful social tool for people with Asperger's, in this study, a corpus of IM conversations from volunteers both with and without Asperger's, conversing with their peers was collected and analyzed to identify patterns of use of standard English lexemes and characteristic IM lexemes. A lexeme is a minimal unit of semantic meaning, which usually corresponds roughly to a word. Emoticons (such as the smiley ":-)"), acronyms (such as "lol"), characteristic abbreviations (like "probly" for "probably"), and typed representations of non-uttered events (like "*hugs you*" or "I hug you") are examples of characteristic IM lexemes. It was hypothesized that people with Asperger's would use significantly more standard English lexemes, and fewer lexemes that are unique to IM, per sent message than would be used by their neurotypical peers. Additionally, it was hypothesized that people with Asperger's would use fewer sent messages to complete an apparent thought than their neurotypical peers.Participants were recruited in already-acquainted pairs through a peer mentoring program for college students with autism and developmental disabilities. Conversational partners were matched based on their acquaintance with each other. Each Asperger's and neurotypical participant held one or two fifteen- to twenty-minute conversations using AOL Instant Messenger®. The conversations were recorded, transcribed and analyzed to compare the use of characteristic IM lexemes and structural aspects of each conversation. The lexemes were counted to determine their frequency in each whole conversation. The number of sent messages in each conversation, the number of sent messages per conversational turn, and the number of lexemes (both IM and standard English) per sent message were counted and compared. Results showed no significant differences between groups on any of the variables, or for the behavior of the control group between conditions, suggesting that people with Asperger's are likely to communicate in this medium in ways that are very similar to their neurotypical peers. Implications of this pilot data and potential directions for future research are discussed.


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Item Type: University of Pittsburgh ETD
Status: Unpublished
CreatorsEmailPitt UsernameORCID
Coburn, Kelly
ETD Committee:
TitleMemberEmail AddressPitt UsernameORCID
Committee ChairCoyle, James Ljcoyle@pitt.eduJCOYLE
Committee MemberWilliams, Diane
Committee MemberDickey, Michael Walshmdickey@pitt.eduMDICKEY
Committee MemberKronk,
Date: 29 April 2009
Date Type: Completion
Defense Date: 17 March 2009
Approval Date: 29 April 2009
Submission Date: 15 April 2009
Access Restriction: No restriction; Release the ETD for access worldwide immediately.
Institution: University of Pittsburgh
Schools and Programs: Dietrich School of Arts and Sciences > Communication Science and Disorders
David C. Frederick Honors College
Degree: BPhil - Bachelor of Philosophy
Thesis Type: Undergraduate Thesis
Refereed: Yes
Uncontrolled Keywords: Asperger; Asperger's disorder; Instant Messenger; internet; online communication
Other ID:, etd-04152009-104830
Date Deposited: 10 Nov 2011 19:37
Last Modified: 15 Nov 2016 13:40


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