Autistic Speech Patterns: Definition, Types & Examples

Instructor: Marquis Grant
Communication or speech patterns are important diagnostic features in autism. This lesson will explore communication impairments by identifying abnormal speech patterns, defining related terminology and giving appropriate examples.

Introduction to Speech Patterns in Children with Autism

There is a common saying in the autism community: If you've seen one child with autism, you've seen one child with autism. This means no two children diagnosed with autism spectrum disorder (ASD) will exhibit the same behaviors or issues related to the disability. This is particularly true in their development of communication skills. Speech patterns in children with autism vary from mild to severe. Some children experience normal speech development while others develop normally for a period of time before ultimately experiencing a decrease in their ability to communicate.

Causes of Communication Difficulties

There is still no information about what exactly causes speech and language difficulties in children with ASD. Some theories point to conditions that occur in the brain's development before, during, or after birth. However, more research is needed to determine why some children have more profound speech impairments than others and whether there are preventative measures that can be put in place to identify and correct these issues as early as in vitro (before birth) or immediately after a child is born.

What are Unusual Speech Patterns?

By definition, children with autism are significantly delayed in speech language development, which impacts their ability to effectively communicate with others. It is important to note that not all children with ASD have problems with communication or language development, though. Abnormally developed speech patterns can range from severe to moderate. There may be a complete absence of speech or unusual speech patterns, which involve manners of speaking and responding that are not appropriate in everyday communication, such as echolalia and atonality, and issues with expressive and receptive language delays.


Some children with autism use atypical speech known as echolalia. Sometimes called parroting, echolalia is the repetition of words or phrase that the child has heard in some other context. This repetition may occur immediately after it is heard or it may be delayed for a period of time (minutes, hours, days or even weeks). Although the child may appear to be contributing to a conversation he is having with someone else, he may actually be imitating what he has heard at an earlier time. For example, someone may ask a child, 'how are you?' and the child responds, 'How are you?' Or the child may use scripted speech where the child is asked, 'Do you want cereal'? and he may state, 'Silly, Rabbit, Trix are for kids.'


One of the characteristics for children diagnosed with autism is the use of language or idiosyncratic language. Idiosyncratic, or eccentric, language may involve the child speaking in animated tones, including high-pitch, flat pitch (monotone), and irregular rhythm or showing poor articulation. They may sound like they are singing as they are talking or imitating the flat, automated voice of a robot.

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