Intact inner speech use in autism spectrum disorder: evidence from a short-term memory task

Author: Williams, D.; Happe, F.; Jarrold, C.

Description: BACKGROUND: Inner speech has been linked to higher-order cognitive processes including ‘theory of mind’, self-awareness and executive functioning, all of which are impaired in autism spectrum disorder (ASD). Individuals with ASD, themselves, report a propensity for visual rather than verbal modes of thinking. This study explored the extent to which children with ASD used inner speech or visual imagery to support recall from short-term memory.

METHOD: Twenty-five children with ASD and 20 comparison children with moderate learning disabilities completed an immediate serial recall task, in which stimuli consisted of items with either phonologically similar features, visuo-spatially similar features or control items which were neither visuo-spatially nor phonologically similar.

RESULTS: ASD and comparison participants, with verbal mental ages above 7 years, recalled phonologically similar stimuli less well than control stimuli, indicating that both groups were using inner speech to recode visually presented information into a phonological code. In contrast, those participants with verbal mental ages below 7 years, whether with ASD or not, recalled visuo-spatially similar stimuli less well than control stimuli, indicating visual rather than phonological coding. This developmental pattern mirrors that found in typically developing children.

CONCLUSIONS: Under experimental conditions, individuals with ASD use inner speech to the same extent as individuals without ASD of a comparable mental age.

Subject headings: Adolescent; Analysis of Variance; Autistic Disorder–psychology; Case-Control Studies; Child; Child, Preschool; Cognition; Female; Humans; Male; Memory, Short-Term; Psycholinguistics; Verbal Behavior; Autism

Publication year: 2008

Journal or book title: Journal of Child Psychology and Psychiatry, and Allied Disciplines

Volume: 49

Issue: 1

Pages: 51-58

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Type: Journal Article

Serial number: 63