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Res Dev Disabil. 2004 Nov-Dec;25(6):559-75.

Visual-auditory integration during speech imitation in autism.

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Department of Child Health, University of Aberdeen, Royal Aberdeen Children's Hospital, Aberdeen AB25 2ZD, UK.


Children with autistic spectrum disorder (ASD) may have poor audio-visual integration, possibly reflecting dysfunctional 'mirror neuron' systems which have been hypothesised to be at the core of the condition. In the present study, a computer program, utilizing speech synthesizer software and a 'virtual' head (Baldi), delivered speech stimuli for identification in auditory, visual or bimodal conditions. Children with ASD were poorer than controls at recognizing stimuli in the unimodal conditions, but once performance on this measure was controlled for, no group difference was found in the bimodal condition. A group of participants with ASD were also trained to develop their speech-reading ability. Training improved visual accuracy and this also improved the children's ability to utilize visual information in their processing of speech. Overall results were compared to predictions from mathematical models based on integration and non-integration, and were most consistent with the integration model. We conclude that, whilst they are less accurate in recognizing stimuli in the unimodal condition, children with ASD show normal integration of visual and auditory speech stimuli. Given that training in recognition of visual speech was effective, children with ASD may benefit from multi-modal approaches in imitative therapy and language training.

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