Impaired neural discrimination of emotional speech prosody in children with autism spectrum disorder and language impairment

Research paper by R. Lindström, T. Lepistö-Paisley, R. Vanhala, R. Alén, T. Kujala

Indexed on: 12 Jun '16Published on: 09 Jun '16Published in: Neuroscience Letters


Autism spectrum disorders (ASD) are characterized by deficient social and communication skills, including difficulties in perceiving speech prosody. The present study addressed processing of emotional prosodic changes (sad, scornful and commanding) in natural word stimuli in typically developed school-aged children and in children with ASD and language impairment. We found that the responses to a repetitive word were diminished in amplitude in the children with ASD, reflecting impaired speech encoding. Furthermore, the amplitude of the MMN/LDN component, reflecting cortical discrimination of sound changes, was diminished in the children with ASD for the scornful deviant. In addition, the amplitude of the P3a, reflecting involuntary orienting to attention-catching changes, was diminished in the children with ASD for the scornful deviant and tended to be smaller for the sad deviant. These results suggest that prosody processing in ASD is impaired at various levels of neural processing, including deficient pre-attentive discrimination and involuntary orientation to speech prosody.

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