Dealing with Autism: Monotonic Speech

What Is Monotonic Speech?

During normal speech a person’s tone will rise and fall, and the rhythm or prosody of speech reinforces and defines the meaning of the words being spoken. In monotonic speech, these accents are missing. Speech is toneless and expressionless and may be hard to interpret due to its lack of rhythm. It is possible to help people with autism to improve the delivery of their speech and in so doing, improve the overall level of meaningful communication.

Who Can Help with Monotonic Speech?

There are a number of ways to help people with autism to overcome monotonic speech. Most methods require intensive work and much repetition. A speech and language therapist will usually devise a treatment plan, and family members will need to follow through with this on a daily basis. A variety of methods may be tried and a combination approach may bring the best results.

Effective Therapies for Monotonic Speech

There are a number of games and therapies that can help with monotonic speech. If one is not effective, there are others that can be tried. A speech and language therapist will work with an autistic person to tailor-make the best program possible to improve the rhythm and tone of their speech. Here are some of the therapies that have proved effective:

  • Role plays where a scene is acted out that expresses surprise, anger, or shock. The therapist or parent will act it out first with the appropriate verbal expression. They then lead the autistic person through the same actions and teach them how to add tone to their voice.
  • An autistic person can benefit from listening to recordings of voices that sound sad, jubilant, excited, busy, or angry. Make this into a game and ask the person to match the tone of the voice to a flash card that reflects the same emotion.
  • If the person has high-functioning autism, a recording of their voice may help them to understand how the flatness of their tone affects the meaning of their words.
  • Many autistic people respond to music, and a familiar song can be a good basis for improving monotonic speech. Choose a simple song that the person knows well and replace the words with phrases the person may use in everyday life. For example, the following words can be sung to the tune of Twinkle, Twinkle Little Star: “Hello, hello, how are you? I am fine, hope you are too.” The act of singing speech adds inflection and tone and, if practiced often, will invariably overflow to spoken words.

While people with autism may never converse in a completely normal manner, there are ways of helping them improve their speech. Adding tone and rhythm will go a long way to overcoming monotonic speech and will help an autistic person to communicate more effectively.

Resources

Staum, Myra J. Music therapy and language. Autism Research Institute at https://www.autism.com/edu_music_therapy.asp

The Complete Guide to Asperger’s Syndrome, Tony Attwood, Jessica Kingsley Publishers, 2007