We report on an automatic technique for quantifying two types of repetitive speech: repetitions of what the child says him/herself (self-repeats) and of what is uttered by an interlocutor (echolalia). We apply this technique to a sample of 111 children between the ages of four and eight: 42 typically developing children (TD), 19 children with specific language impairment (SLI), 25 children with autism spectrum disorders (ASD) plus language impairment (ALI), and 25 children with ASD with normal, non-impaired language (ALN). The results indicate robust differences in echolalia between the TD and ASD groups as a whole (ALN + ALI), and between TD and ALN children. There were no significant differences between ALI and SLI children for echolalia or self-repetitions. The results confirm previous findings that children with ASD repeat the language of others more than other populations of children. On the other hand, self-repetition does not appear to be significantly more frequent in ASD, nor does it matter whether the child's echolalia occurred within one (immediate) or two turns (near-immediate) of the adult's original utterance. Furthermore, non-significant differences between ALN and SLI, between TD and SLI, and between ALI and TD are suggestive that echolalia may not be specific to ALN or to ASD in general. One important innovation of this work is an objective fully automatic technique for assessing the amount of repetition in a transcript of a child's utterances.
Keywords: autism spectrum disorder; echolalia; repetitive behavior; specific language impairment.
© 2013 International Society for Autism Research, Wiley Periodicals, Inc.