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Disfluencies in autistic adults (Clin & Kissine, 2023)

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posted on 2023-07-07, 21:29 authored by Elise Clin, Mikhail Kissine

Purpose: Our study addresses three main questions: (a) Do autistics and neurotypicals produce different patterns of disfluencies, depending on the experimenter’s direct versus averted gaze? (b) Are these patterns correlated to gender, skin conductance responses, fixations on the experimenter’s face, alexithymia, or social anxiety scores? Lastly, (c) can eye-tracking and electrodermal activity data be used in distinguishing listener- versus speaker-oriented disfluencies?

Method: Within a live face-to-face paradigm combining a wearable eye-tracker with electrodermal activity sensors, 80 adults (40 autistics, 40 neurotypicals) defined words in front of an experimenter who was either staring at their eyes (direct gaze condition) or looking elsewhere (averted gaze condition).

Results: Autistics produce less listener-oriented (uh, um) and more speaker-oriented (prolongations, breath) disfluencies than neurotypicals. In both groups, men produce less um than women. Both autistics’ and neurotypicals’ speech are influenced by whether their interlocutor systematically looks at them in the eyes or not, but their reactions go in opposite directions. Disfluencies seem to primarily be linguistic phenomena as experienced stress, social attention, alexithymia, and social anxiety scores do not influence any of the reported results. Finally, eye-tracking and electrodermal activity data suggest that laughter could be a listener-oriented disfluency.

Conclusions: This article studies disfluencies in a fine-grained way in autistic and neurotypical adults while controlling for social attention, experienced stress, and experimental condition (direct vs. averted gaze). It adds to current literature by (a) enlightening our knowledge of speech in autism, (b) opening new perspectives on disfluency patterns as important signals in social interaction, (c) addressing theoretical issues on the dichotomy between listener- and speaker-oriented disfluencies, and (d) considering understudied phenomena as potential disfluencies (e.g., laughter, breath).

Supplemental Method S1. Additional information on words used for the definition task, data acquisition, preparation, and synchronization.

Clin, E., & Kissine, M. (2023). Listener- versus speaker-oriented disfluencies in autistic adults: Insights from wearable eye-tracking and skin conductance within a live face-to-face paradigm. Journal of Speech, Language, and Hearing Research, 66(8), 2562–2580.


Elise Clin was a Fonds pour la Recherche En Sciences Humaines grantee of the Belgian Fonds de la Recherche Scientifique (F.R.S.-FNRS) and the holder of the Van Buuren-Jaumotte-Demoulin prize, granted by the Fonds David et Alice Van Buuren and the Fondation Jaumotte-Demoulin. Mikhail Kissine was a 2019–2022 Francqui Foundation Research Professor. The research material acquisition was also supported by grants from the Fonds d’Encouragement à la Recherche of the Université libre de Bruxelles, the Fonds David et Alice Van Buuren, and the Fondation Jaumotte-Demoulin.