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ERI Talk - Inma Fajardo: "Students with Autism Spectrum Disorder 'read between the lines'"

  • January 4th, 2023
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January 13, 2023. 12:00h. Onsite session. Language: Spanish.

Students with Autism Spectrum Disorder 'read between the lines'

Inma Fajardo

University of Valencia (Spain)


Difficulties in reading comprehension are more frequent (30-50%) in students with Autism Spectrum Disorder (ASD; Sorenson et al., 2021) than in those without ASD (10-15%; Nation & Snowling 1997), and may be related to difficulties in generating inferences, that is, in using text information and prior knowledge to understand text meaning that is not explicitly stated. In this talk we will present the results of a study whose aim was to explore the time course of inference processing during reading in children and adolescents with Autism Spectrum Disorder (ASD) using eye movement measures. For these, participants with ASD (age range: 10-15) were asked to read 30 short texts in English. In the two inference conditions (consistent and inconsistent), readers had to determine the causal relationship between the two final sentences. The content of the second sentence was manipulated to be consistent or inconsistent with the target word in the third sentence. In the control condition, the target word followed a neutral context, so no inferences were necessary. The target word was identical in all conditions to eliminate any potential effects of word length and frequency. Both responses to inference comprehension questions and fixation and refixation times on the target words were measured.

Our paradigm was valid for detecting differences in accuracy between the inference and control conditions, although performance was high for our participants with ASD. Descriptive data suggest differences in fixation times and regressions between the consistent and inconsistent inference condition although these differences were not significant. From the standpoint of educational practice in school settings, our results challenge the deficit conception of ASD in terms of making inferences because our students were very accurate in answering inferential comprehension questions after reading short stories. They also tended to spend more time reading target words that were important for inference processing compared to those in the literal condition. As the limited previous research on online text processing in children and adults with ASD suggests (Fajardo et al., 2022; Howard et al., 2017; Micai et al., 2017), the instructional focus should be on how students with ASD resolve inferences (e.g., more and longer revisits to the informational part of the text before answering comprehension questions) rather than on the output. Future research using our paradigm with a larger sample, or aggregated results from different research labs, could contribute to our understanding of the diversity in the eye movement pattern of students with ASD, thus informing curricular adaptations in mainstream classrooms.



Since 2008, Inma Fajardo holds a Teaching-Research Staff position in the Department of Developmental and Educational Psychology at the University of Valencia, currently in the category of Associate Professor. After a pre-doctoral research fellowship at the Laboratory of Human-Computer Interaction for Special Needs (Egokituz) at the University of the Basque Country, she obtained her PhD in Psychology at the University of Granada. She completed her academic training with a 2-year postdoctoral contract at the University of Manchester (UK) after which she joined the University of Valencia as a member of the Neuroscience and Reading group (READ-it) within the Reading Research Structure (

Her research work focuses on the study of reading difficulties in children and adults derived from disabilities or developmental disorders (Intellectual Disability, Autism Spectrum Disorders and Hearing Impairment). Some of her publications in this area can be consulted here: