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For Kids With Autism, ‘Inner Speech’ Key To Problem-Solving


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Teaching kids with autism to talk things through in their heads could dramatically improve their ability to deal with everyday problems and increase their odds of living independently as adults, new research indicates.

Most children learn to problem solve by talking out loud, but as they age, kids shift to talking in their heads to tackle potential hurdles.

While individuals with autism have the ability to do this, they often don’t, researchers said this week in the journal Development and Psychopathology. And teaching children with autism to use so-called “inner speech” could make a big difference long-term, they said.

For the study, a group of British psychologists looked at 15 adults with high functioning autism and 16 typically developing individuals while they completed a task designed to measure planning ability.

In some cases, participants were asked to repeat the words “Tuesday” or “Thursday” out loud while doing the task, something that would distract a person using inner speech to strategize.

The added challenge made no difference to most of the study participants with autism, but led 90 percent of those without the disorder to fare significantly worse on the task. The results suggest that those with autism do not typically talk things through in their heads, the researchers said.

What’s more, the study found that the more difficulty individuals had with communication, the less likely they were to employ inner speech.

However, the researchers said that teaching children with autism to talk through issues mentally at a young age could make a difference. Specifically they said that there’s evidence to suggest that kids could benefit from describing their actions out loud or learning to master their daily schedule verbally rather than visually.

“These results show that inner speech has its roots in interpersonal communication with others early in life, and it demonstrates that people who are poor at communicating with others will generally be poor at communicating with themselves,” said David Williams of Durham University who led the study.

“It also shows that there is a critical distinction between being able to express yourself verbally and actually using silent language for problem-solving. For example, the participants with ASD in our study were verbally able, yet did not use inner speech to support their planning,” Williams said.

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Comments (6 Responses)

  1. fairlady68 says:

    One major “inner talk” issue that at least some people on the spectrum space is a very sharp “inner critic” that sabotages us at every step.

  2. fairlady68 says:

    CORRECTION: “face” not “space”!

    One major “inner talk” issue that at least some people on the spectrum FACE is a very sharp “inner critic” that sabotages us at every step.

  3. Theophano says:

    I have been a major fan of ‘inner dialogue’ as I call it, since I was a child. I was very much isolated when I was younger and went through many terrible things so I became my own companion so to speak. Yes I know having a conversation with yourself sounds nuts, but it saved my sanity on more than just a few occasions. It remains to this day how I deal with stressful situations, and also is the way I can convince myself to throw my hands in the air, say to h*&& with it, and indulge in some mindless fun for a few hours to forget about things.

    It also causes me to overanalyze things, however. Inner dialogue paired with insane attention to detail can make up for on fustrating day! :P

  4. usethebrainsgodgiveyou says:

    I could see my son had no self talk, and that he spoke what he thought aloud. Ended up getting him suspended. “JUST keep it to yourself, honey, your thoughts. You can think whatever you like.”

    I think this is far too simplistic. The study didn’t show that there was any advantage to self talk for autistic individuals. It just, once again, pointed out that if autistic’s did normal things, they wouldn’t be so autistic.

  5. cindy says:

    right on the money

  6. martha says:

    I have been trying to get the teaching of this skill into my son’s IEP for the last 12 years with no success. Nice to see an article that validates what was always so clear to me.

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