Date of Completion


Embargo Period



Deborah Fein, Ph.D.; Heather Bortfeld, Ph.D.

Field of Study



Master of Arts

Open Access

Open Access


Spontaneous speech is marked by the presence of frequent disfluencies, including fillers like um and uh, which are thought to serve distinct social-communicative functions (Clark & Fox Tree, 2002). People with autism spectrum disorder (ASD) struggle with social communication. The current study examines a) the production of fillers in spontaneous speech among children and adolescents with ASD as well as individuals who have achieved “optimal outcomes” (OO) from ASD, and b) the association between filler rate and autism symptom severity versus general cognitive factors, in order to illuminate the processes implicated in filler production. Speech samples from 64 individuals ages 8-21 with ASD, OO, and typical development (TD) were analyzed for um and uh production. While uh rate did not differ, participants with ASD produced um less frequently than OO and TD peers; OO and TD groups did not differ. Um rate was also inversely correlated with autism symptom severity within the ASD group, but was not associated with cognitive abilities. The finding that reduced um production is associated with ASD, and further, that ASD severity is linked to um frequency, highlights the uniquely social-communicative function of um. These findings may also clarify why, despite findings of atypical prosody in only 50% of individuals, there is a general clinical impression of odd speech quality in ASD. Finally, the typical production of this pragmatic marker among OO individuals substantiates the normalization of social-communicative abilities in OO and the possibility of behavioral recovery from ASD.

Major Advisor

Inge-Marie Eigsti, Ph.D.