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What can neurodiversity tell us about inner speech, and vice versa? A theoretical perspective

Alderson-Day, Ben; Pearson, Amy

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Inner speech refers to the experience of talking to oneself in one's head. While notoriously challenging to investigate, it has also been central to a range of questions concerning mind, brain, and behaviour. Posited as a key component in executive function and self-regulation, inner speech has been claimed to be crucial in higher cognitive operations, self-knowledge and self-awareness. Such arguments have traditionally been supported with examples of atypical development. But variations in inner speech – and in some cases, significant diversity – in fact pose several key challenges to such claims, and raises many more questions for, language, thought and mental health more generally.

In this review, we will summarise evidence on the experience and operation of inner speech in child and adult neurotypical populations, autistic people and other neurodivergent groups, and people with diverse experiences of linguistic and sensory development, including deafness. We will demonstrate that the relationship between inner speech and cognitive operations may be more complex than first assumed when explored through the lens of cognitive and neurological diversity, and the implications of that for understanding the developing brain in all populations. We discuss why and how the experience of inner speech in neurodivergent groups has often been assumed rather than investigated, making it an important opportunity for researchers to develop innovative future work that integrates participatory insights with cognitive methodology. Finally, we will outline why variations in inner speech – in neurotypical and neurodivergent populations alike – nevertheless have a range of important implications for mental health vulnerability and unmet need. In this sense, the example of inner speech offers us both a way of looking back at the logic of developmental psychology and neuropsychology, and a clue to its future in a neurodiverse world.


Alderson-Day, B., & Pearson, A. (2023). What can neurodiversity tell us about inner speech, and vice versa? A theoretical perspective. Cortex, 168, 193-202.

Journal Article Type Article
Acceptance Date Aug 24, 2023
Online Publication Date Sep 5, 2023
Publication Date 2023-11
Deposit Date Oct 4, 2023
Publicly Available Date Oct 4, 2023
Journal Cortex
Print ISSN 0010-9452
Publisher Elsevier
Peer Reviewed Peer Reviewed
Volume 168
Pages 193-202
Keywords Autism, Development, Executive function, Deafness, Language
Public URL


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