Quantitative Analysis of Disfluency in Children with Autism Spectrum Disorder or Language Impairment


Deficits in social communication, particularly pragmatic language, are characteristic of individuals with autism spectrum disorder (ASD). Speech disfluencies may serve pragmatic functions such as cueing speaking problems. Previous studies have found that speakers with ASD differ from typically developing (TD) speakers in the types and patterns of disfluencies they produce, but fail to provide sufficiently detailed characterizations of the methods used to categorize and quantify disfluency, making cross-study comparison difficult. In this study we propose a simple schema for classifying major disfluency types, and use this schema in an exploratory analysis of differences in disfluency rates and patterns among children with ASD compared to TD and language impaired (SLI) groups. 115 children ages 4–8 participated in the study (ASD = 51; SLI = 20; TD = 44), completing a battery of experimental tasks and assessments. Measures of morphological and syntactic complexity, as well as word and disfluency counts, were derived from transcripts of the Autism Diagnostic Observation Schedule (ADOS). High inter-annotator agreement was obtained with the use of the proposed schema. Analyses showed ASD children produced a higher ratio of content to filler disfluencies than TD children. Relative frequencies of repetitions, revisions, and false starts did not differ significantly between groups. TD children also produced more cued disfluencies than ASD children.