Journal of Autism and Developmental Disorders

, Volume 46, Issue 3, pp 998–1012 | Cite as

Altered Gesture and Speech Production in ASD Detract from In-Person Communicative Quality

  • Laura M. Morett
  • Kirsten O’Hearn
  • Beatriz Luna
  • Avniel Singh Ghuman
Original Paper


This study disentangled the influences of language and social processing on communication in autism spectrum disorder (ASD) by examining whether gesture and speech production differs as a function of social context. The results indicate that, unlike other adolescents, adolescents with ASD did not increase their coherency and engagement in the presence of a visible listener, and that greater coherency and engagement were related to lesser social and communicative impairments. Additionally, the results indicated that adolescents with ASD produced sparser speech and fewer gestures conveying supplementary information, and that both of these effects increased in the presence of a visible listener. Together, these findings suggest that interpersonal communication deficits in ASD are driven more strongly by social processing than language processing.


Gesture Language Social communication Dialogue Adolescence 


  1. Alibali, M. W., & Don, L. S. (2001). Children’s gestures are meant to be seen. Gesture, 1, 113–127. doi:10.1075/gest.1.2.02ali.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  2. Alibali, M. W., Heath, D. C., & Myers, H. J. (2001). Effects of visibility between speaker and listener on gesture production: Some gestures are meant to be seen. Journal of Memory and Language, 44, 169–188. doi:10.1006/jmla.2000.2752.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  3. American Psychiatric Association. (2013). Diagnostic and statistical manual of mental disorders (5th ed.). Arlington, VA: American Psychiatric Association.Google Scholar
  4. Astington, J. W., & Baird, J. A. (2005). Why language matters for theory of mind (Vol. xii). New York: Oxford University Press.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  5. Attwood, A., Frith, U., & Hermelin, B. (1988). The understanding and use of interpersonal gestures by autistic and Down’s syndrome children. Journal of Autism and Developmental Disorders, 18, 241–257. doi:10.1007/BF02211950.CrossRefPubMedGoogle Scholar
  6. Baltaxe, C. A. (1977). Pragmatic deficits in the language of autistic adolescents. Journal of Pediatric Psychology, 2, 176–180. doi:10.1093/jpepsy/2.4.176.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  7. Baron-Cohen, S. (1997). Mindblindness: An essay on autism and theory of mind. Cambridge, MA: MIT Press.Google Scholar
  8. Bavelas, J. B., Gerwing, J., Sutton, C., & Prevost, D. (2008). Gesturing on the telephone: Independent effects of dialogue and visibility. Journal of Memory and Language, 58, 495–520. doi:10.1016/j.jml.2007.02.004.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  9. Camaioni, L., Perucchini, P., Muratori, F., & Milone, A. (1997). Brief report: A longitudinal examination of the communicative gestures deficit in young children with autism. Journal of Autism and Developmental Disorders, 27, 715–725. doi:10.1023/A:1025858917000.CrossRefPubMedGoogle Scholar
  10. Charman, T., Drew, A., Baird, C., & Baird, G. (2003). Measuring early language development in preschool children with autism spectrum disorder using the MacArthur Communicative Development Inventory (Infant Form). Journal of Child Language, 30, 213–236. doi:10.1017/S0305000902005482.CrossRefPubMedGoogle Scholar
  11. Colgan, S. E., Lanter, E., McComish, C., Watson, L. R., Crais, E. R., & Baranek, G. T. (2006). Analysis of social interaction gestures in infants with autism. Child Neuropsychology, 12, 307–319. doi:10.1080/09297040600701360.CrossRefPubMedGoogle Scholar
  12. Cook, S. W., & Tanenhaus, M. K. (2009). Embodied communication: Speakers’ gestures affect listeners’ actions. Cognition, 113, 98–104. doi:10.1016/j.cognition.2009.06.006.PubMedCentralCrossRefPubMedGoogle Scholar
  13. Dawson, G., Toth, K., Abbott, R., Osterling, J., Munson, J., Estes, A., & Liaw, J. (2004). Early social attention impairments in autism: Social orienting, joint attention, and attention to distress. Developmental Psychology, 40, 271.CrossRefPubMedGoogle Scholar
  14. de Marchena, A., & Eigsti, I. M. (2010). Conversational gestures in autism spectrum disorders: Asynchrony but not decreased frequency. Autism Research, 3, 311–322. doi:10.1002/aur.159.CrossRefPubMedGoogle Scholar
  15. de Marchena, A., & Eigsti, I. M. (2015). The art of common ground: Emergence of a complex pragmatic language skill in adolescents with autism spectrum disorders. Journal of Child Language. doi:10.1017/S0305000915000070.
  16. Frick-Horbury, D., & Guttentag, R. E. (1998). The effects of restricting hand gesture production on lexical retrieval and free recall. The American Journal of Psychology, 111, 43–62. doi:10.2307/1423536.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  17. Goldin-Meadow, S., Nusbaum, H., Kelly, S. D., & Wagner, S. (2001). Explaining math: Gesturing lightens the load. Psychological Science, 12, 516–522. doi:10.1111/1467-9280.00395.CrossRefPubMedGoogle Scholar
  18. Happé, F. G. E. (1993). Communicative competence and theory of mind in autism: A test of relevance theory. Cognition, 48, 101–119. doi:10.1016/0010-0277(93)90026-R.CrossRefPubMedGoogle Scholar
  19. Huerta, M., Bishop, S. L., Duncan, A., Hus, V., & Lord, C. (2014). Application of DSM-5 criteria for autism spectrum disorder to three samples of children with DSM-IV diagnoses of pervasive developmental disorders. American Journal of Psychiatry,. doi:10.1176/appi.ajp.2012.12020276.Google Scholar
  20. Kincaid, J. P., Fishburne, R. P, Jr, Rogers, R. L., & Chissom, B. S. (1975). Derivation of new readability formulas for navy enlisted personnel (Research Branch Report 8-75). TN: Millington.Google Scholar
  21. Kita, S., & Özyürek, A. (2003). What does cross-linguistic variation in semantic coordination of speech and gesture reveal?: Evidence for an interface representation of spatial thinking and speaking. Journal of Memory and Language, 48, 16–32. doi:10.1016/S0749-596X(02)00505-3.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  22. Lake, J. K., Humphreys, K. R., & Cardy, S. (2011). Listener vs. speaker-oriented aspects of speech: Studying the disfluencies of individuals with autism spectrum disorders. Psychonomic Bulletin & Review, 18, 135–140. doi:10.3758/s13423-010-0037-x.
  23. Landa, R. (2000). Social language use in Asperger syndrome. In A. Klin, F. Volkmar, & S. Sparrow (Eds.), Asperger syndrome (pp. 125–155). New York: Guilford Press.Google Scholar
  24. Landis, J. R., & Koch, G. G. (1977). The measurement of observer agreement for categorical data. Biometrics, 33, 159–174.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  25. Landry, S. H., & Loveland, K. A. (1989). The effect of social context on the functional communication skills of autistic children. Journal of Autism and Developmental Disorders, 19, 283–299. doi:10.1007/BF02211847.CrossRefPubMedGoogle Scholar
  26. Lord, C., Risi, S., Lambrecht, L., Cook, E. H, Jr, Leventhal, 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. doi:10.1023/A:1005592401947.CrossRefPubMedGoogle Scholar
  27. Lord, C., Rutter, M., & 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. doi:10.1007/BF02172145.CrossRefPubMedGoogle Scholar
  28. Loveland, K. A., & Landry, S. H. (1986). Joint attention and language in autism and developmental language delay. Journal of Autism and Developmental Disorders, 16, 335–349. doi:10.1007/BF01531663.CrossRefPubMedGoogle Scholar
  29. Loveland, K. A., Landry, S. H., Hughes, S. O., Hall, S. K., & McEvoy, R. E. (1988). Speech acts and the pragmatic deficits of autism. Journal of Speech and Hearing Research, 31, 593–604. doi:10.1044/jshr.3104.593.CrossRefPubMedGoogle Scholar
  30. Martin, I., & McDonald, S. (2004). An exploration of causes of non-literal language problems in individuals with Asperger syndrome. Journal of Autism and Developmental Disorders, 34, 311–328. doi:10.1023/B:JADD.0000029553.52889.15.CrossRefPubMedGoogle Scholar
  31. McCann, J., & Peppe, S. (2003). Prosody in autism spectrum disorders: A critical review. International Journal of Language & Communication Disorders, 38, 325–350. doi:10.1080/1368282031000154204.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  32. McCann, J., Peppé, S., Gibbon, F. E., O’Hare, A., & Rutherford, M. (2007). Prosody and its relationship to language in school-aged children with high-functioning autism. International Journal of Language & Communication Disorders, 42, 682–702. doi:10.1080/13682820601170102.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  33. McNeill, D. (1992). Hand and mind. Chicago: University of Chicago Press.Google Scholar
  34. McNeill, D. (2005). Gesture and thought. Chicago: University of Chicago Press.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  35. Mol, L., Krahmer, E., Maes, A., & Swerts, M. (2012). Adaptation in gesture: Converging hands or converging minds? Journal of Memory and Language, 66, 249–264. doi:10.1016/j.jml.2011.07.004.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  36. Morrel-Samuels, P., & Krauss, R. M. (1992). Word familiarity predicts temporal asynchrony of hand gestures and speech. Journal of Experimental Psychology. Learning, Memory, and Cognition, 18, 615–622. doi:10.1037/0278-7393.18.3.615.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  37. Mundy, P., Sigman, M., & Kasari, C. (1990). A longitudinal study of joint attention and language development in autistic children. Journal of Autism and Developmental Disorders, 20, 115–128. doi:10.1007/BF02206861.CrossRefPubMedGoogle Scholar
  38. O’Hearn, K., Lakusta, L., Schroer, E., Minshew, N., & Luna, B. (2011). Deficits in adults with autism spectrum disorders when processing multiple objects in dynamic scenes. Autism Research, 4, 132–142. doi:10.1002/aur.179.PubMedCentralCrossRefPubMedGoogle Scholar
  39. O’Hearn, K., Schroer, E., Minshew, N., & Luna, B. (2010). Lack of developmental improvement on a face memory task during adolescence in autism. Neuropsychologia, 48, 3955–3960. doi:10.1016/j.neuropsychologia.2010.08.024.PubMedCentralCrossRefPubMedGoogle Scholar
  40. Osterling, J., & Dawson, G. (1994). Early recognition of children with autism: A study of first birthday home videotapes. Journal of Autism and Developmental Disorders, 24, 247–257. doi:10.1007/BF02172225.CrossRefPubMedGoogle Scholar
  41. Paul, R., Shriberg, L. D., McSweeny, J., Cicchetti, D., Klin, A., & Volkmar, F. (2005). Brief report: Relations between prosodic performance and communication and socialization ratings in high functioning speakers with autism spectrum disorders. Journal of Autism and Developmental Disorders, 35, 861–869. doi:10.1007/s10803-005-0031-8.CrossRefPubMedGoogle Scholar
  42. Shriberg, L. D. (2001). Speech and prosody characteristics of adolescents and adults with high-functioning autism and Asperger syndrome. Journal of Speech, Language, and Hearing Research, 44, 1097–1115. doi:10.1044/1092-4388(2001/087).CrossRefPubMedGoogle Scholar
  43. Silverman, L. B., Bennetto, L., Campana, E., & Tanenhaus, M. K. (2010). Speech-and-gesture integration in high functioning autism. Cognition, 115, 380–393. doi:10.1016/j.cognition.2010.01.002.CrossRefPubMedGoogle Scholar
  44. Stone, W. L., Ousley, O. Y., Yoder, P. J., Hogan, K. L., & Hepburn, S. L. (1997). Nonverbal communication in two-and three-year-old children with autism. Journal of Autism and Developmental Disorders, 27, 677–696.CrossRefPubMedGoogle Scholar
  45. Swerts, M., Wichmann, A., & Beun, R.-J. (1996). Filled pauses as markers of discourse structure. In Proceedings of the fourth international conference on spoken language, 1996. ICSLP 96. (Vol. 2, pp. 1033–1036). IEEE.Google Scholar
  46. Tartaro, A., & Cassell, J. (2008). Playing with virtual peers: Bootstrapping contingent discourse in children with autism. In Proceedings of the 8th international conference on international conference for the learning sciences (Vol. 2, pp. 382–389). Retrieved from
  47. Tomasello, M. (2009). Constructing a language: A usage-based theory of language acquisition. Harvard: Harvard University Press.Google Scholar
  48. Ure, J. (1971). Lexical density and register differentiation. In G. E. Perren & J. L. M. Trim (Eds.), Applications of linguistics (pp. 443–452). Cambridge: Cambridge University Press.Google Scholar
  49. Wechsler, D. (1999). Wechsler abbreviated scale of intelligence. Psychological Corporation.Google Scholar

Copyright information

© Springer Science+Business Media New York 2015

Authors and Affiliations

  1. 1.Department of PsychiatryUniversity of PittsburghPittsburghUSA
  2. 2.Center for the Neural Basis of CognitionPittsburghUSA
  3. 3.Department of NeurosurgeryUniversity of PittsburghPittsburghUSA

Personalised recommendations