Stuttering and Autism

I was curious about the incidence of people with Autism who also stutter?  I know that

stuttering is less common in people with hearing loss or cleft palate, due to the

association with the feedback system.  Since people with autism often have difficulty

interpreting the thoughts of others, would stuttering be less common (or even non-

existent) in this population since they may not experience the emotional

consequences to the extent of people who don’t have autism?  Thanks.


Idaho State University Graduate Student

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Stuttering and Autism — 2 Comments

  1. Hi Karissa,
    This topic is a special research interest to me. We don’t have objective data regarding the numbers of individuals with autism with fluency disorders, but more and more therapists are reporting clients on their caseloads who have autism and also stutter, clutter, and/or exhibit a different type of disfluency called “word final disfluencies” (e.g., I ate cake-ake for my birthday). Regarding awareness, many are not aware of the word-final disfluencies, and some are not aware of the cluttering. But as with everything in autism and in fluency disorders, awareness does seem to be variable across individuals. For example,we currently have an article coming out in the International Journal of Language and Communication Disorders (Scaler Scott, Tetnowski, Flaitz, & Yaruss)comparing the fluency of students with autism to those with only stuttering and those with no diagnosis. In the sample of children with autism, there is at least one student who exhibits traditional stuttering behaviors…i.e., prolongations, blocks, and secondary behaviors. He talks about how he avoids certain speaking situations/words b/c of his stuttering. Others in the sample exhibit very mild part-word repetitions w/o any awareness, and neither they nor their caregivers would describe themselves as persons who stutter. Still others exhibit stuttering and cluttering. There is lack of awareness of the cluttering in at least one case, but we know that to be common in cluttering in general. So some of the disfluency patterns exhibited appear to be like those exhibited among those who stutter/clutter and some may be more unique to those with autism. Of course this study is a very small sample so we can’t generalize to the larger population (more work needs to be done), but it may give you a sense of trends we are seeing in the field. There are also studies showing the word final disfluencies (and other disfluency patterns) in autism in articles by Sisskin (2006) and Plexico et al. (2010) if you want to read more about it. Thanks for your question! Kathy Scaler Scott

  2. My answer is basically the same as Dr. Scaler Scott’s, but I would also add that the premise that stuttering is less common in cleft palate is not supported by any research that I know of. Hearing loss can often be genetic, as stuttering seems to be, so the fact that we don’t see a lot of hearing-impaired PWS may reflect two relatively smaller incidence disorders not hitting the same group very often.
    We are also not very uniform in our dx of ASD, either, so that complicates true incidence/prevalence computations.
    Finally, as Dr. Scaler Scott notes, we are seeing some unusual patterns of disfluency, particularly this final segment pattern, and are not sure if it is a variation on stuttering as we typically understand it, or a different type of disfluency behavior that stems from other “causes” or mechanisms. Certainly we need more research/info, and if there are people out there who know of people with ASD showing fluency concerns, it would be good if those folks could be in contact with fluency researchers such as Dr. Scaler Scott or Vivian Sisskin so that we can do a better job of understanding this important population and its therapy needs.