Autism Without Speech Delay

No Speech Delay, But Substantial Problems With Nonverbal Communication and the "Art of Conversation"

Date First Published: April 2, 2007
Date Last Updated: October 30, 2008

While classic autism is marked by either a failure to acquire speech, or a speech delay, Asperger’s syndrome is not. Language is acquired on time, or even early. Problems with communication are considerable, however, and include trouble reading non-verbal cues, such as body language and facial expression, as well as difficulty with prosody and pragmatic language.1,2

Prosody refers to how one speaks: tone, volume, and speed. People with Asperger’s are known for speaking in unusual ways. For example, they may speak in a monotone, or very fast, or as if they are delivering a lecture. Pragmatic language refers to the art of conversation: taking turns speaking, staying on a topic for a polite number of turns (even if it’s not your favorite topic), showing interest in someone else’s comments, etc. People with Asperger’s suffer from major impairments in pragmatics. 3 They tend to talk at people instead of with them, and will often talk on and on about their favorite topics long after another person has become sick of the subject. To sum it up:

“Characteristic of this group are behaviors such as repetitive questioning, inappropriate touching, conversation focused almost exclusively on the child’s own narrow interests, and odd postures, gestures, and facial expressions.”  4

People with Asperger's can talk a blue streak. It is what they choose to talk about, the persistence with which they hold to their topic, and how they sound that is unusual.


  1. Paul, R. (2005). Assessing communication in autism spectrum disorders. In F. Volkmar et al. (Eds.), Handbook of Autism and Pervasive Developmental Disorders (pp.799-816). Hoboken, NJ: John Wiley & Sons. (pg. 807)
  2. Tager-Flusberg, H., Paul, R., & Lord, C. (2005). Language and communication in autism. In F. Volkmar et al. (Eds.), Handbook of Autism and Pervasive Developmental Disorders (pp.335-364). Hoboken, NJ: John Wiley & Sons. (pg. 352)
  3. Attwood, T. (1998). Asperger’s syndrome: A guide for parents and professionals. London and Philadephia: Jessica Kingsley Publishers. (pg. 57-88)
  4. Loveland, K.A., & Tunali-Kotoski, B. (2005). The school-age child with an autistic spectrum disorder. In F. Volkmar et al. (Eds.), Handbook of Autism and Pervasive Developmental Disorders (pp.247-287). Hoboken, NJ: John Wiley & Sons. (pg.250)
These archived articles were originally published as part of the Interactive Autism Network (IAN) research project. 
The project is closed and no longer accepting participants.

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