Uh and Um in Children With Autism Spectrum Disorders or Language Impairment


Atypical pragmatic language is often present in individuals with autism spectrum disorders (ASD), along with delays or deficits in structural language. This study investigated the use of the “fillers” uh and um by children ages 4–8 during the autism diagnostic observation schedule. Fillers reflect speakers’ difficulties with planning and delivering speech, but they also serve communicative purposes, such as negotiating control of the floor or conveying uncertainty. We hypothesized that children with ASD would use different patterns of fillers compared to peers with typical development or with specific language impairment (SLI), reflecting differences in social ability and communicative intent. Regression analyses revealed that children in the ASD group were much less likely to use um than children in the other two groups. Filler use is an easy-to-quantify feature of behavior that, in concert with other observations, may help to distinguish ASD from SLI.

In Autism Research