A quarterly publication of the Autism Research Institute

The Autism Research Review International is quarterly publication of the Autism Research Institute

Summer, 2022 | Number 3, Volume 36

Electronic toys may reduce speech use during play

While both neurotypical children and children with autism spectrum disorders (ASD) are highly attracted to electronic toys, a new study suggests that these toys— even when educational in nature—can reduce the quality and quantity of children’s speech during play. 

In the study, Courtney Venker and Jennifer Johnson instructed 28 parent-child pairs (14 in the ASD group and 14 in the neurotypical group) to play with electronic toys in one session and with traditional toys in another. Afterward, they analyzed the children’s speech production in each play session. 

The researchers report, “Children with ASD and age-matched children with typical development talked significantly less and produced significantly fewer unique words when playing with electronic toys than with traditional toys. Observations of the electronic play sessions indicated that the talking, singing, music, and animal sounds produced by the toys often left little room for children to contribute.” They add that the sights and sounds produced by the electronic toys “dominated the interaction, interrupting children’s utterances and decreasing the space available for parent-child communication.” 

The researchers conclude, “Although electronic toys are often advertised as educational, the current findings add to growing evidence that electronic toys decrease the quality of play interactions between children and their parents.” They add that while this may have little effect on typically developing children, “children with ASD are likely to be vulnerable even to seemingly subtle disruptions in parent-child interactions.” They note, however, that electronic toys can be highly motivating, and thus could be beneficial when offered on a limited basis and for a useful purpose. In addition, they caution that their sample was limited and their findings need to be verified by larger studies with more diverse participants.


“Electronic toys decrease the quantity and lexical diversity of spoken language produced by children with autism spectrum disorder and age-matched children with typical development,” Courtney E. Venker and Jennifer R. Johnson, Frontiers in Psychology, July 2022 (free online). Address: Courtney Venker, Lingo Lab, Department of Communicative Science and Disorders, Michigan State University, East Lansing, MI 48824, [email protected]