Autism is a developmental disability characterized by atypical social interaction, interests or body movements, and communication. Our review examines the empirical status of three communication phenomena believed to be unique to autism: pronoun reversal (using the pronoun when the pronoun is intended, and vice versa), echolalia (repeating what someone has said), and a reduced or even reversed production-comprehension lag (a reduction or reversal of the well-established finding that speakers produce less sophisticated language than they can comprehend). Each of these three phenomena has been claimed to be unique to autism; therefore, each has been proposed to be diagnostic of autism, and each has been interpreted in autism-centric ways (psychoanalytic interpretations of pronoun reversal, behaviorist interpretations of echolalia, and clinical lore about the production-comprehension lag). However, as our review demonstrates, none of these three phenomena is in fact unique to autism; none can or should serve as diagnostic of autism, and all call into question unwarranted assumptions about autistic persons and their language development and use.


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