The interactional dimension of repetitive behaviours by individuals with autism
Chen, Rachel Siew Yoong
Date of Issue2016
School of Humanities and Social Sciences
Repetitive, Restricted Behaviour (RRB) is one of the key features of Autism (DSM-V, 2013). It refers to a class of behaviours involving nonfunctional routines, repetitive motor mannerisms, and repetitive speech to name a few. Although traditionally considered sensory-seeking or physiologically-driven (Tuner, 1999; Lovaas et. al, 1987), recent research has shown that such behaviour can also have an interactional dimension. Past studies of contextualized repetitive speech (echolalia) in particular, have provided much insight into the various characterisations and functions of echolalia. Although traditionally considered dysfunctional, it has been found that echolalia can sometimes serve non-communicative but “cognitively significant” functions (Prizant & Duchan, 1981), and can otherwise be used to achieve interactional outcomes and goals (Local and Wootton, 1995; Wootton, 1999; Sterponi and Shankey, 2014). Dickerson et al. (2007) have also shown how motor actions (tapping), which could be regarded as “stereotypies” that are symptomatic of autism, (DSM-IV) can be interactionally relevant. These studies have illustrated the importance of natural settings and familiar interlocutors in examining autistic speech and behaviour. With a focus on instances of behaviours that may be construed as “stereotypies”, this thesis aims to distinguish various degrees of interactional relevance in the production of repetitive behavior by minimally verbal individuals diagnosed with Autism. It further attempts to disentangle the different ways these behaviours are relevant and significant to the interaction at hand. Video recordings of naturally occurring interactions (50 hours) were obtained, and pertinent data was selected and analysed following Conversation Analysis (CA) conventions. Acoustic analysis and some coding was also used to support the analysis where appropriate. The analysis included data from four autistic individuals with minimal verbal ability in a variety of everyday activities. The thesis first systematically analyses solitary repetitive behaviours, and finds that they are performed with particularity and care, and also with an occasional monitoring of others in the environment. It then proceeds to analyse solitary repetitive behaviours that were transformed into interactional relevance via interruption, and which are adjusted to accommodate to the expectations of the interlocutor. It later discusses repetitive behaviours that are a clear display of excitement, and that are similarly modified in various ways to accommodate to the progressivity of the interaction. A case of selective giggling is studied, and seen to occur solely with a mother’s actions. The thesis then ends its analysis with a larger sequence, which not only encompasses the essence of earlier chapters, but additionally examines how displays of negative affect can be enacted through changes in repetitive behaviour. The RRB of Autistic Individuals provides evidence for meaningful engagement with their surroundings, and with others. Our findings reveal that RRB can, in a variety of ways, participate in the progression of interaction by serving interactional goals or expressing affect. Alongside other interactionally-oriented studies on autistic speech and behaviour, it proposes that RRB be cast not as a deficit, but at times as an interactional resource.