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New Self-help Technique May Aid The Autistic

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A new technique suggested by scientists at the University of Bristol, Durham University and City University London holds immense hope for young children affected with autism. In a study that was conducted by the researchers children suffering from autism spectrum disorders showed benefits from being taught to "talk things through in their head" in order to solve complex tasks that they are faced with every day.

We know that an average adult uses inner speech to reason out and plan things on a daily basis. However, this aspect is suppressed in persons affected by autism and related disorders. A typical growing child uses external/outer verbal communication to describe his/her action and seek approval of their actions and decisions.

Unfortunatley, those with autism lack this ability. This then translate into a presence or absence of an "inner voice". The average child who speaks out uses inner talk as s/he grows to achieve the same ends, i.e., solve complex day-to-day tasks and plan the day, and develop strategies to a overcome a situation.

As the speaking out is suppressed in autistic children, so is their "inner talk" as they grow into adolescents and adults. This in turn affects their chances of independent, flexible living later in life. (1)

However, the study showed that teaching autistic children to use inner speech helped them get around most things they are faced with in the course of a normal day. Other intervention strategies were also applied, such as having them describe their actions aloud and using verbal learning of their daily schedules, etc., were found to improve recall and mental flexibility in the group of children.

A 2009 report published by the Centers For Disease Control and Prevention stated that an average of 1 in 110 children in the United States have autism spectrum disorder. (2) In the U.K., this figure is at 1 in every 100 children.

As per Dr. Williams, lecturer in the Department of Psychology at Durham University, “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. 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.” (3)

The study tested 15 high-functioning adults afflicted with ASD and 16 non-afflicted persons for a complex task that would require the usage of planning ability to complete the task. Generally, healthy individuals would have used "talking through in their head" to execute the task.

However this aspect of the group was suppressed and they were made to repeat an unrelated word during the execution of the task. Articulation suppression was not administered on afflicted adults as they had nil "inner speech" to start with.

The results showed that as many as a staggering 90 percent of the non-afflicted adults did significantly worse than what they would have, had their "inner talking" not been hindered. Comparatively, in the ASD-afflicted group only 33 percent of the adults were in any way negatively affected by articulatory suppression during the task.

This brought to light how neurotypical adults use the inner speech to help themselves through the day and those suffering from autism did not. (4)
However, larger scale studies need to be conducted to examine the scope of impact that will help scientists develop strategies to support children with such disabilities.


1. Learning to 'Talk Things Through in Your Head' May Help People With Autism; Science News Daily; February 2012; http://www.sciencedaily.com/releases/2012/01/120124200103.htm

2. Autism Spectrum Disorder (ASDs) – Data and Statistics; February 2012; http://www.cdc.gov/ncbddd/autism/data.html

3. Learning to ‘talk things through in your head’ may help people with autism; Durham University- Research; February 2012; http://www.dur.ac.uk/research/news/item/?itemno=13745

4. Learning to 'talk things through in your head' may help people with autism; University of Bristol Press Release; February; http://www.bris.ac.uk/news/2012/8192.html

Technical report of the study may be had at the following link:

1. Inner speech is used to mediate short-term memory, but not planning, among intellectually high-functioning adults with autism spectrum disorder; Cambridge Journals; February 2012; http://journals.cambridge.org/action/displayAbstract?fromPage=online&aid=8481647&fulltextType=RA&fileId=S0954579411000794


Mamta Singh is a published author of the books Migraines for the Informed Woman – Tips From A Sufferer: ISBN: 978-81-291-1517-1 (Publisher: Rupa & Co. URL: http://www.amazon.com/Migraines-Informed-Woman-Tips-Sufferer/dp/8129115174/ref=sr_1_2?ie=UTF8&s=books&qid=1298990756&sr=1-2), Mentor Your Mind – Tested Mantras For The Busy Woman: ISBN: 978-81-207-5973-2 (Publisher: Sterling Publishers; URL: http://www.sterlingpublishers.com/search_result.asp) and the upcoming Women’s Complete Fitness Guide (Publisher: Hay House).

She is also a seasoned business, creative and academic writer. She is a certified fitness instructor, personal trainer & sports nutritionist through IFA, Florida USA. Mamta is an NCFE-certified Holistic Health Therapist SAC Dip U.K. She is the lead writer and holds Expert Author status in many well-received health, fitness and nutrition sites.

She runs her own popular blogs on migraines in women and holistic health. Mamta holds a double Master's Degree in Commerce and Business. She is a registered practitioner with the UN recognised Art of Living Foundation. Please visit www.mamtasingh.com

Reviewed March 1, 2012
by Michele Blacksberg RN
Edited by Jody Smith

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We value and respect our HERWriters' experiences, but everyone is different. Many of our writers are speaking from personal experience, and what's worked for them may not work for you. Their articles are not a substitute for medical advice, although we hope you can gain knowledge from their insight.



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