Wednesday, July 21, 2010

Clothing for words in the phonological store

There is another physical test being developed that helps professionals detect autism, this time by studying the voice. (I wrote earlier about a testing method that detects differences in global and local processing).

I don't have that much of an issue with my voice- it's better than some other people with Asperger's Syndrome- but it's still often flat, and I find I don't have a lot of control over the prosody sometimes. I still find this very frustrating. When you are female, people expect you to have a more melodious voice.

I also have some trouble understanding other peoples voices sometimes, but I have improved. I can understand other peoples tone but have a difficult time reproducing it willfully.

Speech for me is split into two distinct processes. I'm not able to just start talking and follow my train of thought easily while controlling my voice. There is a left spot for words, and a right spot for words.

The words themselves are coming at me from the left side. They are "naked" words. If I am trying to explain something, or recall something from memory, then I am usually running down a stream of consciousness that doesn't include a lot of room to manipulate those words. That's where the long streams of ranting are. I can go on for quite a while without pausing. I know that annoys people now though, and don't do that anymore if I can help it.

I have to focus on the involvement of my right side and combine the processes to be able to "clothe" the words in prosody, pitch, and volume. But when I do that, my cognition slows down considerably.

If I am staying on the right side, then I have much more control over my words, but my vocabulary is much lower and I have a lot more difficulty forming sentences. I can manipulate my voice if I am reading something that I already know.

Sometimes it is difficult to find my "inner voice" and I will accidentally copy the rhythm of other people in the room. It seems easier for my working memory if my brain does that, rather than having to concentrate on clothing my words "from scratch", I guess. For example, once I briefly talked to a Scottish person and they asked me what part of Scotland I'm from. Although I'm part Scottish, I haven't even been to Scotland and don't know any Scottish people. At the time I didn't realize I was speaking oddly because I think I was too preoccupied with what I was trying to say. But if  you randomly ask me to speak in an accent, I'm really bad at it! Sometimes other people with AS pick up odd accents, or have a "repertoire" of different distinct voices to choose from.

Mirror neurons have also been found to have some relationship with prosody. There seems to be some mirror neurons in Broca's area. That's probably why I temporarily copy other people's voices unintentionally.

I also annoy people by being too loud sometimes. But when I am concentrating on producing language, it's difficult to monitor my volume.

This paper came out last week in PLoS.

The Integration of Prosodic Speech in High Functioning Autism: A Preliminary fMRI Study

The left SMG is viewed as the starting point of the working memory loop for phonology which then projects frontally [60]. As such, the left SMG can be considered as the phonological store area and would then be a part of the phonological loop postulated by Baddeley [61]. It can thus be suggested that autistic subjects rely more on working memory processes and processes translating from auditory to articulatory representations than controls do in the natural condition.  It can thus be hypothesized that the HFA group recruit the left SMG as a compensatory phenomenon, which is supported by the idea that prosody could be so troublesome for them that they would be more concentrated on phoneme discrimination, which is part of the literal speech decoding, either to avoid paying attention to prosodic features or to be able to understand the story. A further explanation which may be raised for accounting for this left SMG activation could stem from a right hypoactivation in the HFA group, which is in light with previous cortical evoked potential studies reporting a right hypoactivation in autism  
 Hmm. It is true for me, that when I listen to another person talk it is much easier if I focus on encoding the words. Sometimes I have to tune out the persons tone, because it is too distracting and I can't follow what they are saying while trying to understand the words simultaneously.

I would like to be able to change my voice to appear more friendly, add different emotions, flirt, etc. In my imagination I can imagine myself doing that. But then when I try, getting the words out with these two different processes is another thing. My brain freezes up and won't let me.

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