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Neuropsychology. 2015 May;29(3):454-62. doi: 10.1037/neu0000162. Epub 2014 Dec 15.

A late-emerging auditory deficit in autism.

Author information

Centre National de la Recherche Scientifique.
Department of Communication Sciences and Disorders, Northwestern University.
Institut de Neurosciences Cognitives et Intégratives d'Aquitaine, UMR CNRS 5287, Université de Bordeaux.



Individuals with autism spectrum disorders (ASD) show enhanced perceptual and memory abilities in the domain of pitch, but also perceptual deficits in other auditory domains. The present study investigated their skills with respect to "echoic memory," a form of short-term sensory memory intimately tied to auditory perception, using a developmental perspective.


We tested 23 high-functioning participants with ASD and 26 typically developing (TD) participants, distributed in two age groups (children vs. young adults; mean ages: ∼11 and ∼21 years). By means of an adaptive psychophysical procedure, we measured the longest period for which periodic (i.e., repeated) noise could be reliably discriminated from nonperiodic (i.e., plain random) noise. On each experimental trial, a single noise sample was presented to the participant, who had to classify this sound as periodic or nonperiodic.


The TD adults performed, on average, much better than the other three groups, who performed similarly overall. As a function of practice, the measured thresholds improved for the TD participants, but did not change for the ASD participants. Thresholds were not correlated to performance in a test assessing verbal memory. The variance of the participants' response biases was larger among the ASD participants than among the TD participants.


The results mainly suggest that echoic memory takes a long time to fully develop in TD humans, and that this development stops prematurely in persons with ASD.

[Indexed for MEDLINE]

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