Brief Report: Further Evidence for Inner Speech Deficits in Autism Spectrum Disorders

  • Gregory L. Wallace
  • Jennifer A. Silvers
  • Alex Martin
  • Lauren E. Kenworthy
Brief Report


Recent research indicates that individuals with autism do not effectively use inner speech during the completion of cognitive tasks. We used Articulatory Suppression (AS) to interfere with inner speech during completion of alternate items from the Tower of London (TOL). AS detrimentally affected TOL performance among typically developing (TD) adolescents (n = 25), but did not significantly diminish performance among adolescents with high functioning (IQ > 80) autism spectrum disorders (n = 28). Moreover, the TD group’s TOL performance under AS was indistinguishable from the autism group’s impaired baseline TOL performance. These findings suggest that diminished inner speech usage among individuals with high functioning autism spectrum disorders (relative to TD controls) may contribute to executive dysfunction associated with these disorders.


Autism Asperger’s syndrome Inner speech Executive function Problem solving Language 


  1. Baldo, J. V., Dronkers, N. F., Wilkins, D., Ludy, C., Raskin, P., & Kim, J. (2005). Is problem solving dependent on language? Brain and Language, 92, 240–250.CrossRefPubMedGoogle Scholar
  2. Biro, S., & Russell, J. (2001). The execution of arbitrary procedures by children with autism. Development and Psychopathology, 13, 97–110.CrossRefPubMedGoogle Scholar
  3. Bull, R., Espy, K. A., & Senn, T. E. (2004). A comparison of performance on the Towers of London and Hanoi in young children. Journal of Child Psychology and Psychiatry, 45, 743–754.CrossRefPubMedGoogle Scholar
  4. Culbertson, W. C., & Zillmer, E. A. (1998). The Tower of London (DX): A standardized approach to assessing executive functioning in children. Archives of Clinical Neuropsychology, 13, 285–301.PubMedGoogle Scholar
  5. Dagher, A., Owen, A. M., Boecker, H., & Brooks, D. J. (1999). Mapping the network for planning: A correlational PET activation study with the Tower of London task. Brain, 122, 1973–1987.CrossRefPubMedGoogle Scholar
  6. Emerson, M. J., & Miyake, A. (2003). The role of inner speech in task switching: A dual-task investigation. Journal of Memory and Language, 48, 148–168.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  7. Fernyhough, C., & Fradley, E. (2005). Private speech on an executive task: Relations with task difficulty and task performance. Cognitive Development, 20, 103–120.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  8. Hill, E. L. (2004). Executive dysfunction in autism. Trends in Cognitive Sciences, 8, 26–32.CrossRefPubMedGoogle Scholar
  9. Joseph, R. M., Steele, S. D., Meyer, E., & Tager-Flusberg, H. (2005). Self-ordered pointing in children with autism: Failure to use verbal mediation in the service of working memory? Neuropsychologia, 43, 1400–1411.CrossRefPubMedGoogle Scholar
  10. Kenworthy, L., Yerys, B. E., Anthony, L. G., & Wallace, G. L. (2008). Understanding executive control in autism spectrum disorders in the lab and in the real world. Neuropsychology Review, 18, 320–328.CrossRefPubMedGoogle Scholar
  11. Lainhart, J. E., Bigler, E. D., Bocian, M., Coon, H., Dinh, E., Dawson, G., et al. (2006). Head circumference and height in autism: A study by the collaborative program of excellence in Autism. American Journal of Medical Genetics, 140, 2257–2274.PubMedGoogle Scholar
  12. LeCouteur, A., Rutter, M., Lord, C., Rios, P., Robertson, S., Holdgrafer, M., et al. (1989). Autism diagnostic interview: A standardized investigator-based instrument. Journal of Autism and Developmental Disorders, 19, 363–387.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  13. Lord, C., Risi, S., Lambrecht, L., Cook, E. H., Jr., Levanthol, B. L., DiLavore, P. C., et al. (2000). The autism diagnostic observation schedule-generic: A standard measure of social and communication deficits associated with the spectrum of autism. Journal of Autism and Developmental Disorders, 30, 205–223.CrossRefPubMedGoogle Scholar
  14. Lord, C., Rutter, M., & Le Couteur, A. (1994). Autism diagnostic interview-revised: A revised version of a diagnostic interview for caregivers of individuals with possible pervasive developmental disorders. Journal of Autism and Developmental Disorders, 24, 659–685.CrossRefPubMedGoogle Scholar
  15. Luciana, M., & Nelson, C. A. (1998). The functional emergence of prefrontally-guided working memory systems in four- to eight-year-old children. Neuropsychologia, 36, 273–293.CrossRefPubMedGoogle Scholar
  16. Ozonoff, S. (1995). Reliability and validity of the Wisconsin card sorting test in studies of autism. Neuropsychology, 9, 491–500.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  17. Pennington, B. F., & Ozonoff, S. (1996). Executive functions and developmental psychopathology. Journal of Child Psychology and Psychiatry, 37, 51–87.CrossRefPubMedGoogle Scholar
  18. Riccio, C. A., Wolfe, M. E., Romine, C., Davis, B., & Sullivan, J. R. (2004). The Tower of London and neuropsychological assessment of ADHD in adults. Archives of Clinical Neuropsychology, 19, 661–671.CrossRefPubMedGoogle Scholar
  19. Russell, J. (1997). How executive disorders can bring about an adequate “theory of mind”. In J. Russell (Ed.), Autism as an executive disorder (pp. 256–304). Oxford: Oxford University Press.Google Scholar
  20. Russell, J., Jarrold, C., & Hood, B. (1999). Two intact executive capacities in children with autism: Implications for the core executive dysfunctions in the disorder. Journal of Autism and Developmental Disorders, 29, 103–112.CrossRefPubMedGoogle Scholar
  21. Unterrainer, J., & Owen, A. (2006). Planning and problem solving: From neuropsychology to functional neuroimaging. Journal of Physiology, 99, 308–317.PubMedGoogle Scholar
  22. Vygotsky, L. S. (1962). Thought and language. Cambridge, MA: The MIT Press.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  23. Whitehouse, A. J. O., Maybery, M. T., & Durkin, K. (2006). Inner speech impairments in autism. Journal of Child Psychology and Psychiatry, 47, 857–865.CrossRefPubMedGoogle Scholar
  24. Williams, D., Happé, F., & Jarrold, C. (2008). Intact inner speech use in autism spectrum disorder: Evidence from a short-term memory task. Journal of Child Psychology and Psychiatry, 49, 51–58.CrossRefPubMedGoogle Scholar
  25. Winsler, A., Abar, B., Feder, M. A., Schunn, C. D., & Rubio, D. A. (2007). Private speech and executive functioning among high-functioning children with autistic spectrum disorders. Journal of Autism and Developmental Disorders, 37, 1617–1635.CrossRefPubMedGoogle Scholar

Copyright information

© GovernmentEmployee: National Institutes of Health 2009

Authors and Affiliations

  • Gregory L. Wallace
    • 1
  • Jennifer A. Silvers
    • 1
  • Alex Martin
    • 1
  • Lauren E. Kenworthy
    • 1
    • 2
  1. 1.Laboratory of Brain & CognitionNational Institute of Mental HealthBethesdaUSA
  2. 2.Children’s National Medical Center and Department of Psychiatry and Behavioral Sciences, Center for Autism Spectrum Disorders, School of Medicine and Health SciencesThe George Washington UniversityWashingtonUSA

Personalised recommendations