Differences in speech articulatory timing and associations with pragmatic language ability in autism

Joseph C.Y. Lau, Molly Losh*, Marisha Speights

*Corresponding author for this work

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

1 Scopus citations


Background: Speech articulation difficulties have not traditionally been considered to be a feature of Autism Spectrum Disorder (ASD). In contrast, speech prosodic differences have been widely reported in ASD, and may even be expressed in subtle form among clinically unaffected first-degree relatives, representing the expression of underlying genetic liability. Some evidence has challenged this traditional dichotomy, suggesting that differences in speech articulatory mechanisms may be evident in ASD, and potentially related to perceived prosodic differences. Clinical measurement of articulatory skills has traditionally been phoneme-based, rather than by acoustic measurement of motor control. Subtle differences in articulatory/motor control, prosodic characteristics (acoustic), and pragmatic language ability (linguistic) may each be contributors to differences perceived by listeners, but the interrelationship is unclear. In this study, we examined the articulatory aspects of this relationship, in speech samples from individuals with ASD and their parents during narration. Method: Using Speechmark® analysis, we examined articulatory landmarks, fine-grained representations of articulatory timing as series of laryngeal and vocal-tract gestures pertaining to prosodic elements crucial for conveying pragmatic information. Results: Results revealed articulatory timing differences in individuals with ASD but not their parents, suggesting that although potentially not influenced by broader genetic liability to ASD, subtle articulatory differences may indeed be evident in ASD as the recent literature indicates. A follow-up path analysis detected associations between articulatory timing differences and prosody, and subsequently, pragmatic language ability. Conclusion: Together, results suggest a complex relationship where subtle differences in articulatory timing may result in atypical acoustic signals, and serve as a distal mechanistic contributor to pragmatic language ability ASD.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Article number102118
JournalResearch in Autism Spectrum Disorders
StatePublished - Apr 2023


  • ASD
  • Articulatory timing
  • Pragmatics
  • Prosody
  • Speech articulation

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • Psychiatry and Mental health
  • Clinical Psychology
  • Developmental and Educational Psychology


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