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Functioning of the brain-stem auditory pathway in non-retarded autistic individuals.


Functioning of auditory brain-stem pathways was examined in non-retarded autistic individuals (14-28 years of age). Functioning was assessed by recording ERPs (event-related brain potentials) generated by these auditory pathways. These ERPs were evoked by click stimuli and occurred within the first 8 msec following the onset of the click. To assess the ability of these early auditory pathways to process sensory stimuli of varying characteristics, we systematically varied click intensity, rate of stimulation, ear of stimulation, and polarity of clicks. The results show that non-retarded autistic individuals have normal functioning of the brain-stem auditory pathways which generate these ERPs: every autistic subject had normal ERPs. So, disorder in auditory brain-stem pathways which generate these ERPs is not necessary for autism to occur. The dysfunctioning neural systems directly responsible for autism in non-retarded individuals must be sought elsewhere. Ten of the autistic subjects in this study, whom we found to have normal auditory brain-stem ERPs, had previously been found to have abnormalities in longer latency cognitive ERP components (Courchesne et al. 1984, 1985). We conclude, therefore, that those abnormalities in longer latency components are not the downstream consequences of abnormalities in the structures generating the auditory brain-stem ERPs recorded in the present study.

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