These areas of speech are called prosody, and autistic kids can struggle with it - talking too loudly, using a monotone voice or asking questions in a flat tone - and as a result are often mistaken for being disinterested, unfeeling or lacking a sense of humour.
So why is it hard for them, and how can you help to prevent these misunderstandings?
There’s a bunch of different theories bouncing around about why autistic kids can have difficulty varying their voice when they speak:
They don’t hear a difference
They can’t produce a difference
They can be literal
HOW TO HELP
So how can you help prevent the kind of misunderstandings that come from prosody issues?
- Teach them explicit rules about speech inflections, like ‘when we ask a question our voice goes up at the end’
- Don’t expect them to hear their own voice the way you do - they may not realise they’re speaking in a monotone, so advice like ‘say it like you mean it’ is pointless
- Explain that words and phrases can have more than one meaning, and that others might not automatically know which meaning you’re using (so making your voice change can show other people what you want the word to mean)
- Show how stressing different words in a sentence can change the meaning:
- They might not be able to monitor their own volume, so find a gentle way to let them know when they’re being too loud (a tap on the shoulder, a flashcard) - don’t get angry or yell ‘be quiet’ (it’ll only work for a second anyway)
- Listen to what they’re saying rather than the way in which they’re saying it to help them feel understood (e.g. don't tell them that their apology doesn't sound sincere)
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