Faculty Publications


Assessment and treatment of psychotic speech in an autistic child.

SelectedWorks Author Profiles:

V. Mark Durand

Document Type


Publication Date


Date Issued

January 1987

Date Available

April 2013




The psychotic speech of autistic and other developmentally disabled children can be defined as words or phrases that are intelligible, but appear out of context. In the present investigation we conducted an analysis of the psychotic speech of a 9-year-old autistic boy. Three experiments were constructed to determine the functional significance of this child's psychotic speech and a method of intervention. The first study involved an analysis of the role of adult attention and task demands in the maintenance of psychotic speech. When task demands were increased, the frequency of psychotic speech increased. Varying adult attention had no effect on psychotic speech. We then performed a second analysis in which the consequence for psychotic speech was a 10-second time-out. Psychotic speech increased, suggesting that it may have been maintained through escape from task demands. Finally, the third experiment involved teaching an appropriate escape response ("Help me"). Psychotic speech was greatly reduced by this intervention. Thus, teaching an appropriate equivalent phrase proved to be a viable alternative to interventions using aversive consequences. The present study represents the first observation that psychotic speech may serve to remove children from unpleasant situations and also introduces a nonaversive intervention for this behavior.


Abstract only. Full-text article is available only through licensed access provided by the publisher. Published in Journal of Autism and Developmental Disorders, 17, 17 28. doi: 0.1007/BF01487257. Members of the USF System may access the full-text of the article through the authenticated link provided.