Date of Award


Degree Type


Degree Name

Doctor of Philosophy (PhD)




It has been estimated that writing is one of the most significant academic problems for children with Autism Spectrum Disorder (ASD), with as many as 60% of children having a learning disability in writing (Mayes & Calhoun, 2008). The majority of evidence demonstrating this achievement gap, however, comes from research finding global writing deficits, using standardized tests. As a result, a number of questions remain about how the texts constructed by children with ASD specifically align or deviate from typical development. For instance, do these texts differ in terms of vocabulary, grammar, or structure? Are children with ASD better at writing in a particular genre? Additionally, the mechanisms that influence writing development in children with ASD are still unclear. Therefore, in the present study we (1) comprehensively characterized the cross-genre (i.e., personal narrative, expository) writing development of 8- to- 14-year-old children with and without ASD; and (2) examined how language, handwriting ability, and cognitive processing contribute to written expression. Our findings revealed that children with ASD wrote less and made more grammatical errors in their sentences across writing genres than neurotypical (NT) children. When examining overall quality, children with ASD only differed from neurotypical children on their narrative texts. In contrast, writing high quality expository essays was an area of relative strength for children with ASD compared to NT children. Contrary to expectations, children made few significant style distinctions between personal narrative and expository writing. Current analyses also indicated that oral language skills, handwriting ability, theory of mind, and executive functioning each play a role in a variety of written expression skills in children with and without ASD. For example, theory of mind knowledge appeared to be especially important for the quality of writing among children with and without ASD. These results have important implications for educational instruction as well as the development of writing interventions.

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