Visual-tactile Speech Perception and the Autism Quotient

Katie Bicevskis, Bryan Gick, and I recently published “Visual-tactile Speech Perception and the Autism Quotient” in Frontiers in Communication: Language Sciences. In this article, we demonstrated that the more people self-describe as having autistic-spectrum traits, the more they tolerate a separation of time between air-flow hitting the skin and lip opening from a video of someone saying an ambiguous “ba” or “pa” when identifying the syllable they saw and felt, but did not hear.

First, in an earlier publication, we showed that visual-tactile speech integration depended on this alignment of lip opening and airflow, and that this is evidence of modality-neutral speech primitives. We use whatever information we have during speech perception regardless of whether we see, feel, or hear it.

Summary results from Bicevskis et al. (2016), as seen in Derrick et al. (2019).

This result is best illustrated with the image above. The image shows a kind of topographical map, where white represents the “mountaintop” of people saying the ambiguous audio-tactile syllable is a “pa”, and green represents the “valley” of people saying the ambiguous audio-tactile syllable is a “ba”. On the X-axis is the alignment of the onset of air-flow release and lip opening. On the Y-axis is the participants’ Autism-spectrum Quotient. Lower numbers represent people who describe themselves as having the least autistic-like traits; the most neurotypical. At the bottom of the scale, perceivers identify the ambiguous syllables as “pa” with as much as 70-75% likelihood when the air-flow arrived 100-150 milliseconds after lip opening – about when it would arrive if a speaker stood 30-45 cm away from the perceiver. Deviations led to steep dropoffs, where perceivers would identify the syllable as “pa” only 20-30% of the time if the air flow arrived 300 milliseconds before the lip opening. In contrast, at the top of the AQ scale, perceivers reported perceiving “pa” as little as only 5% more often when audio-tactile alignment was closer to that experienced in typical speech.

Interaction between audio-tactile alignment and Autism-spectrum Quotient.
Interaction between audio-tactile alignment and Autism-spectrum Quotient.

These results are very similar what happens with people who are on the autism spectrum with audio-visual speech. Autists listen to speech with their ears more than they look with their eyes, showing a weak multisensory coherence during perceptual tasks (Happé and Frith, 2006). Our results suggest such weak coherence extends into the neutoryipcal population, and can be measured in tasks where the sensory modalities are well-balanced (which is easier to do in speech when audio is removed.)


Bicevskis, K., Derrick, D., and Gick, B. (2016). Visual-tactile integration in speech perception: Evidence for modality neutral speech primitives. Journal of the Acoustical Society of America, 140(5):3531–3539

Derrick, D., Bicevskis, K., and Gick, B. (2019). Visual-tactile speech perception and the autism quotient. Frontiers in Communication – Language Sciences, 3(61):1–11

Derrick, D., Anderson, P., Gick, B., and Green, S. (2009). Characteristics of air puffs produced in English ‘pa’: Experiments and simulations. Journal of the Acoustical Society of America, 125(4):2272–2281

Happé, F., and Frith, U. (2006). The Weak Coherence Account: Detail-focused Cognitive Style in Autism Spectrum Disorders. Journal of Autism and Developmental Disorders, 36(1):5-25

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