Interaction of Preadolescents with Autism – Focus on Speech Prosody, Gaze Behavior and Misunderstanding Situations

Project: Research project

Project Details

Description (abstract)

Persons afflicted with autism spectrum disorders (ASD) often have prominent prosodic features in their speech. For example, they may have a limited range of intonation, their speech can be overly fast, jerky or loud, or it can be characterized by large pitch excursions, quiet voice, inconsistent pause structure, prominent word stress and/or by creaky or nasal voice. By creating an impression of “oddness”, these features can constitute a significant obstacle to the social acceptance of the individual. They also affect ASD speakers’ ratings of social and communicative competence.

The crucial role of eye contact in fluent interaction has long been acknowledged. One of the key features of normal gaze behavior is that listeners look at speakers. ASD subjects are deficient in this ‘gaze response’. Gaze constituting such an important interactional resource, ASD persons’ tendency to avoid eye contact may affect the fluidity of conversations and cause misunderstandings. For this reason, it is important to know the precise ways in which the gaze avoidance is done, and the ways in which it affects the interaction.

This project aims at discovering prosodic features and gaze behavior that characterize people afflicted with ASD independently of the mother tongue and the cultural environment of the person. It has already been shown that certain prosodic features are typical of ASD people’s speech (see above). It is however not yet known to what extent
1) neurotypical people find these features prominent;
2) the exact acoustic values of these features differ from the corresponding values of neurotypical people;
3) these features are language-specific.
In addition the project will focus on these issues:
4) what kind of gaze behavior is typical of preadolescent ASD boys in multi-party conversations;
5) to what extent is this behavior language- and culture-specific;
6) what is the role of the prosodic features and the direction of gaze in misunderstanding situations occurring in ASD people’s interaction.

The data consists of audiovisual material recorded from group therapy sessions where 11–13-year-old French-, Finnish- and English-speaking boys afflicted with ASD are interacting. A small control group data is also constructed for all three languages.

Methodologically, two different viewpoints will be adopted. One of these is qualitative (conversation analysis, CA) and the other one is quantitative (experimental and instrumental phonetics). CA will be used to discover the role of ASD subjects’ prosodic and nonverbal deficiencies in misunderstanding situations. CA will also be used for defining the nonverbal features that characterize ASD persons’ interaction. Methods of experimental and instrumental phonetics will be used to define the prosodic features that characterize ASD persons’ speech as well as to find out which features occur only in one of the languages and which ones occur independently of the language. Perception tests will allow discovering how neurotypical people perceive ASD subjects’ prosody and comparing statistically the impressions of the French-, Finnish- and English-speaking informants.
Effective start/end date01/09/2015 → …

Fields of Science

  • 6121 Languages
  • autism
  • prosody
  • gaze
  • understanding problems
  • repairs
  • interaction
  • gaze behaviour
  • non verbal interaction
  • conversation analysis
  • disfluency
  • phonetics
  • speech
  • speech analysis