Abnormal Speech Patterns in Autism


One of the important diagnostic features in autism is qualitative impairment in communication. By definition, children with autism show delays and deficits in the acquisition of language, which range from the almost complete absence of functional communication to adequate linguistic knowledge, but impairments in the use of that knowledge in conversation or other discourse contexts.


Some of the major characteristics of autism are abnormal speech patterns. Children with autism are often non-verbal when initially diagnosed. Any present speech is usually highly deviant and of limited communicative function.


The speech of many children with autism appears abnormal and is often described as machine-like, “monotonic,” or “sing-song.” The abnormalities were even noted in early descriptions of autism. However, their exact characteristics, underlying mechanisms, consistency and diagnostic power had not yet been established.


Earlier studies on abnormal speech patterns focused on prosody or abnormal supra-segmental aspects of speech production. However, recent studies quantified speech abnormalities in autism through objective measures. However, there was still no clear-cut different between autistic children and other children who experience delayed speech development.


Further studies have been conducted to make this distinction by developing speech spectrum-based measures, such as the long-term average spectrum - LTAS - . Some of the areas where studies have been conducted include:

  • Long-term average spectrum analysis
  • Pitch analysis
  • Noise level estimation
  • Spectral variability

A number of abnormal speech patterns in autism have been identified, including echolalia, pronoun reversal, metaphorical language, poor grammatical structure, atonality and arrhythmia.


Studies have shown that abnormal speech patterns in autism are reflected in pitch variability and spectral content. The variability may be an indication of abnormal processing of auditory feedback or instability in the mechanisms that control pitch.


Autistic children tend to repeat certain words and phrases over and over. These phrases are often quite basic in nature. Many people with autism are unable to label objects or use and understand abstract concepts until quite late, if at all.


People diagnosed with autism normally use idiosyncratic speech that make little sense to those who are not familiar with them. These individuals also use odd tones, where the speeches are characterized by rises at the end of sentences and rather monotonous. They may also use irregular intonation, pitch, pace, rhythm and articulation. Some of them also find it difficult to change their volumes irrespective of where they are.



APA, 1994:70

Margaret & Thomas, 2005

Stuart & Robert,2008

Bonneh, Levanon, Dean-Pardo, Lossos, & Adini, 2010

Kanner, 1943

Lofqvist and Mandersson, 1987

Susan, 2005, p39

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