Counting Green Stars

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The Voice of Asperger’s

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ASPIE BADGEI was recently listening to an audiobook written and narrated by someone with Asperger’s syndrome. As I listened to him tell his story, I was struck by how recognizable his voice was. His speech sounded just like my autistic son’s. Is there a distinctive voice pattern associated with Asperger’s?

Researchers from Harvard University have been studying autism and the workings of the brain, and they have shared some startling insights.

It turns out that sentences are not formed in a single area of the brain. It’s far more complex than that. We form the concept of a sentence in one spot. Then we choose the verbs in another area and nouns in yet a third spot. The sentence is built in pieces throughout the brain, and then assembled into finished form.

For some reason, people with Asperger’s experience “delays” in the transmission of those sentence fragments within the brain. That gives a slightly ragged cadence to their speech that’s quite distinct from that of normal speech.

In addition to the unique cadence of speech, there is also a lack of social expression and that’s actually audible. Those with Asperger’s don’t have a natural ability to make subtle changes to the rhythm and pitch of their speech to convey emotion, so their speech has a flat, monotonic quality. Collectively, those traits are called prosody.

The really exciting part of all of this is whether or not someone with Asperger’s can alter the quality of their speech.

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