These skills might increase the chances of people with autism being able to live independent, flexible lives, according to the study led by a team at Durham University in England.
The researchers compared how 15 high-functioning adults with autism spectrum disorder and 16 adults without the disorder completed a test that measures planning ability as well as a short-term memory task.
The psychologists found that the use, or lack of, thinking in words is strongly linked to the extent of someone’s communication deficiencies which are rooted in early childhood.
The researchers suggest teaching and intervention strategies for children aimed at fostering inner speech could make a difference. These strategies include encouraging children to describe their actions out loud.
The study appeared online Jan. 25 in the journal Development and Psychopathology.
“Most people will ‘think in words’ when trying to solve problems, which helps with planning or particularly complicated tasks,” study author David Williams, a lecturer in the department of psychology at Durham University, said in a university news release. “Young, typically developing children tend to talk out loud to guide themselves when they face challenging tasks.”
However, it is only from about age 7 that “they talk to themselves in their head and, thus, think in words for problem-solving,” he added. “How good people are at this skill is in part determined by their communication experiences as a young child.”