Chapter 5. Prosody and autism

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This chapter focuses on prosodic processing in individuals with autism spectrum disorders (ASD). An overview of key studies linking prosodic difficulties with ASD is provided. Methods reviewed include behavioural assessment, acoustic analyses, electrophysiological measures, and brain imaging. It is difficult to draw strong conclusions from previous research as there has been little consistency across studies in terms of the types of prosody that were examined, whether or not both comprehension and production of prosody were investigated, and the nature and size of the samples that were assessed. There is consensus that only some individuals with ASD experience problems with prosody. Importantly, different types of prosodic impairment have been observed across individuals with ASD and it seems likely that these are associated with different causal mechanisms. Some possible mechanisms underpinning prosodic impairment that have been put forward over the years include a cognitive deficit relating to Theory of Mind, motor speech impairment, lack of social motivation to align one’s speech with others, atypical audio-vocal regulation, and deficient pitch encoding. Future research endeavours should include increased effort to pinpoint causal mechanisms and explore targeted remediation of prosodic difficulties in individuals with ASD.


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