Acoustic and Perceptual Measurement of Expressive Prosody in High-Functioning Autism: Increased Pitch Range and What it Means to Listeners

Abstract

Are there consistent markers of atypical prosody in speakers with high functioning autism (HFA) compared to typically-developing speakers? We examined: (1) acoustic measurements of pitch range, mean pitch and speech rate in conversation, (2) perceptual ratings of conversation for these features and overall prosody, and (3) acoustic measurements of speech from a structured task. Increased pitch range was found in speakers with HFA during both conversation and structured communication. In global ratings listeners rated speakers with HFA as having atypical prosody. Although the HFA group demonstrated increased acoustic pitch range, listeners did not rate speakers with HFA as having increased pitch variation. We suggest that the quality of pitch variation used by speakers with HFA was non-conventional and thus not registered as such by listeners.

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Acknowledgments

A version of this study was presented at the 2010 International Meeting for Autism Research in Philadelphia, PA. This work was supported by NIDCD F32-DC007297 to Nadig and McGill Faculty of Medicine research bursaries to Shaw. We are grateful to the families who participated in the study as well as the students who provided ratings for Experiment 2. We thank Josh Diehl and Duane Watson for their generous sharing of PRAAT scripts. Finally we would like to extend thanks to Lisa Goffman and Shari Baum for helpful input on this work.

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Correspondence to Aparna Nadig.

Appendix

Appendix

See Table 3

Table 3 Perceptual rating scale

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Nadig, A., Shaw, H. Acoustic and Perceptual Measurement of Expressive Prosody in High-Functioning Autism: Increased Pitch Range and What it Means to Listeners. J Autism Dev Disord 42, 499–511 (2012). https://doi.org/10.1007/s10803-011-1264-3

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Keywords

  • High-functioning autism
  • Expressive prosody
  • Acoustic measurements
  • Pitch variability
  • Perceptual judgments