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PLoS One. 2017 Jul 24;12(7):e0181354. doi: 10.1371/journal.pone.0181354. eCollection 2017.

Atypical speech versus non-speech detection and discrimination in 4- to 6- yr old children with autism spectrum disorder: An ERP study.

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School of Psychology and Neuroscience, Dalhousie University, Halifax, Nova Scotia, Canada.
School of Psychology, University of Birmingham, Edgbaston, Birmingham, West Midlands, United Kingdom.
Center for Autism Research, Children's Hospital of Philadelphia, Philadelphia, Pennsylvania, United States of America.


Previous event-related potential (ERP) research utilizing oddball stimulus paradigms suggests diminished processing of speech versus non-speech sounds in children with an Autism Spectrum Disorder (ASD). However, brain mechanisms underlying these speech processing abnormalities, and to what extent they are related to poor language abilities in this population remain unknown. In the current study, we utilized a novel paired repetition paradigm in order to investigate ERP responses associated with the detection and discrimination of speech and non-speech sounds in 4- to 6-year old children with ASD, compared with gender and verbal age matched controls. ERPs were recorded while children passively listened to pairs of stimuli that were either both speech sounds, both non-speech sounds, speech followed by non-speech, or non-speech followed by speech. Control participants exhibited N330 match/mismatch responses measured from temporal electrodes, reflecting speech versus non-speech detection, bilaterally, whereas children with ASD exhibited this effect only over temporal electrodes in the left hemisphere. Furthermore, while the control groups exhibited match/mismatch effects at approximately 600 ms (central N600, temporal P600) when a non-speech sound was followed by a speech sound, these effects were absent in the ASD group. These findings suggest that children with ASD fail to activate right hemisphere mechanisms, likely associated with social or emotional aspects of speech detection, when distinguishing non-speech from speech stimuli. Together, these results demonstrate the presence of atypical speech versus non-speech processing in children with ASD when compared with typically developing children matched on verbal age.

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