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Reduced Neural Specialization for Word-level Linguistic Prosody in Children with Autism

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Children with autism often show atypical brain lateralization for speech and language processing, however, it is unclear what linguistic component contributes to this phenomenon. Here we measured event-related potential (ERP) responses in 21 school-age autistic children and 25 age-matched neurotypical (NT) peers during listening to word-level prosodic stimuli. We found that both groups displayed larger late negative response (LNR) amplitude to native prosody than to nonnative prosody; however, unlike the NT group exhibiting left-lateralized LNR distinction of prosodic phonology, the autism group showed no evidence of LNR lateralization. Moreover, in both groups, the LNR effects were only present for prosodic phonology but not for phoneme-free prosodic acoustics. These results extended the findings of inadequate neural specialization for language in autism to sub-lexical prosodic structures.
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Journal of Autism and Developmental Disorders
educational and functional attainment and the heterogeneity
of developmental outcomes in the acquisition of phonology,
morphology, syntax, semantics and pragmatics (Gillberg,
1991; Gillespie-Lynch et al., 2012; Howlin, 2005; Prelock
& Nelson, 2012; Tager-Flusberg et al., 2005), an improved
understanding of functional brain organization of speech
processing may shed light on the neural basis of atypical
language development in autism and its connection to clini-
cal severity and symptomology.
Neuroimaging studies have demonstrated that language
and communication diculties in autistic individuals may
be linked with dierences in hemispheric lateralization of
language functions (Flagg et al., 2005; Kleinhans et al.,
2008). In neurotypical children, language competence is
generally associated with age-dependent leftward cortical
specialization (Berl et al., 2014; Holland et al., 2007; Weiss
et al., 2018; Yamasaki et al., 2021). However, individuals
with language impairment are found to show atypical lan-
guage laterality or specialization (e.g., Bishop 2013; Brad-
shaw et al., 2020; de Guibert et al., 2011). In autism research,
atypical lateralization of cortical responses to speech is
frequently discussed (for reviews, see Haesen et al., 2011;
Lindell, 2020; Sperdin & Schaer, 2016; Yu & Wang, 2021),
but its developmental trajectories and neurobehavioral
mechanisms remain poorly understood. One outstanding
question is what linguistic and acoustic properties of the
Atypical speech and language development is pervasive
among individuals with autism spectrum disorders (hence-
forth autism). Studies have shown that speech onset delay
during infancy is one of the earliest and most common
indicators for subsequent development of autism (Pierce
et al., 2019; Tager-Flusberg et al., 2005; Zwaigenbaum
et al., 2005). Up to 25% of autistic children remain non-
verbal or minimally verbal upon entering school (Norrel-
gen et al., 2015). Given the fundamental role of language
abilities in mediating social communication and facilitating
Luodi Yu
Suiping Wang
1 Center for Autism Research, School of Education,
Guangzhou University, Wenyi Bldg, Guangzhou, China
2 Guangzhou Rehabilitation & Research Center for Children
with ASD, Guangzhou Cana School, Guangzhou, China
3 Philosophy and Social Science Laboratory of Reading and
Development in Children and Adolescents (South China
Normal University) , Ministry of Education, Guangzhou,
4 Department of Speech-Language-Hearing Sciences,
University of Minnesota, Minneapolis, MN, USA
Children with autism often show atypical brain lateralization for speech and language processing, however, it is unclear
what linguistic component contributes to this phenomenon. Here we measured event-related potential (ERP) responses
in 21 school-age autistic children and 25 age-matched neurotypical (NT) peers during listening to word-level prosodic
stimuli. We found that both groups displayed larger late negative response (LNR) amplitude to native prosody than to
nonnative prosody; however, unlike the NT group exhibiting left-lateralized LNR distinction of prosodic phonology, the
autism group showed no evidence of LNR lateralization. Moreover, in both groups, the LNR eects were only present for
prosodic phonology but not for phoneme-free prosodic acoustics. These results extended the ndings of inadequate neural
specialization for language in autism to sub-lexical prosodic structures.
Keywords Autism · EEG · Word prosody · Language lateralization · Neural specialization
Accepted: 10 August 2022
© The Author(s), under exclusive licence to Springer Science+Business Media, LLC, part of Springer Nature 2022
Reduced Neural Specialization for Word-level Linguistic Prosody in
Children with Autism
LuodiYu1,3 · DanHuang2· SuipingWang3· YangZhang4
1 3
Content courtesy of Springer Nature, terms of use apply. Rights reserved.
... For example, mounting evidence has suggested that auditory processing impairments in ASD are more severe for speech than for nonspeech stimuli (see O'Connor 2012 for a review). Moreover, ASD children had reduced discrimination sensitivity for lexical tone contrast relative to TD peers, despite their equivalent or increased sensitivity to pitch contrasts of pure tones and hummed sounds (Yu et al. 2015(Yu et al. , 2022. These findings also suggest that prosody serves as a bridge between lower-level acoustic elements and higher-level language components to help pinpoint the sources of problems to guide theoretical development and intervention practice. ...
In response to uncovering brain mechanisms underlying vocal communication and searching for biomarkers for mental illnesses, speech prosody has been increasingly studied in recent years in multiple disciplines, including psycholinguistics. In this article, we provide an up-to-date synthesis of the theoretical foundation and empirical evidence to profile linguistic and emotional prosody in the proper characterization of mental disorders, including schizophrenia, autism, Alzheimer's disease, and depression. Our review reveals a need to develop theoretically motivated and methodologically integrated approaches to the study of context-driven comprehension and expression of pragmatic-affective prosody, which will help elucidate the core features of socio-communicative problems in individuals with mental disorders. We propose that comprehensive models within and across the conventional cognition-emotion-language trichotomy need to be developed to integrate current findings and guide future research. In particular, there needs to be due emphasis on investigating multisensory and cross-modal effects in normal and pathological prosody research. Our review calls for multidisciplinary efforts to address the challenging issues to inform and inspire the advancement of linguistic theories and psychiatric diagnosis and treatment. Expected final online publication date for the Annual Review of Linguistics, Volume 9 is January 2023. Please see for revised estimates.
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For autistic young adults, deciding whether to disclose their autism at work is complex. Minimal research explores what they need to support disclosure and what influences decisions. To understand disclosure needs and influencers, we explored (i) disclosure decision-making experiences and (ii) perceptions of the disclosure process among autistic young adults. We con- ducted focus groups using the Capability, Opportunity, Motivation, Behaviour Model and Theoretical Domains Framework (TDF). We analyzed data from 23 participants and mapped onto the TDF to develop five themes: (1) workplace environment, (2) perceptions of disclosure outcomes, (3) personal factors and identity, (4) disclosure-related ambitions and determina- tion, and (5) know-hows of disclosure. Future work should prioritize developing disclosure decision-making supports and investigate employer roles in fostering inclusive workplaces.
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According to the Interactive Specialization Theory, cognitive skill development is facilitated by a process of neural specialization. In line with this theory, the current study investigated whether neural specialization for phonological and semantic processing at 5-to-6 years old was predictive of growth in word reading skills 2 years later. Specifically, four regression models were estimated in which reading growth was predicted from: (1) an intercept-only model; (2) measures of semantic and phonological neural specialization; (3) performance on semantic and phonological behavioral tasks; or (4) a combination of neural specialization and behavioral performance. Results from the preregistered analyses revealed little evidence in favor of the hypothesis that early semantic and phonological skills are predictive of growth in reading. However, results from the exploratory analyses, which included a larger sample, added age at Time 1 as a covariate, and investigated relative growth in reading, demonstrated decisive evidence that variability in phonological processing is predictive of reading growth. The best fitting model included both measures of specialization within the posterior superior temporal gyrus (pSTG) and behavioral performance. This work provides important evidence in favor of the Interactive Specialization Theory and, more specifically, for the role of phonological neural specialization in the development of early word reading skills.
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The presence of vowel exaggeration in infant‐directed speech (IDS) may adapt to the age‐appropriate demands in speech and language acquisition. Previous studies have provided behavioral evidence of atypical auditory processing towards IDS in children with autism spectrum disorders (ASD), while the underlying neurophysiological mechanisms remain unknown. This event‐related potential (ERP) study investigated the neural coding of formant‐exaggerated speech and nonspeech in 24 4‐ to 11‐year‐old children with ASD and 24 typically‐developing (TD) peers. The EEG data were recorded using an alternating block design, in which each stimulus type (exaggerated/non‐exaggerated sound) was presented with equal probability. ERP waveform analysis revealed an enhanced P1 for vowel formant exaggeration in the TD group but not in the ASD group. This speech‐specific atypical processing in ASD was not found for the nonspeech stimuli which showed similar P1 enhancement in both ASD and TD groups. Moreover, the time‐frequency analysis indicated that children with ASD showed differences in neural synchronization in the delta‐theta bands for processing acoustic formant changes embedded in nonspeech. Collectively, the results add substantiating neurophysiological evidence (i.e., a lack of neural enhancement effect of vowel exaggeration) for atypical auditory processing of IDS in children with ASD, which may exert a negative effect on phonetic encoding and language learning. Lay summary Atypical responses to motherese might act as a potential early marker of risk for children with ASD. This study investigated the neural responses to such socially relevant stimuli in the ASD brain, and the results suggested a lack of neural enhancement responding to the motherese even in individuals without intellectual disability.
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Most infants who are later diagnosed with autism show delayed speech and language and/or atypical language profile. There is a large body of research on abnormal speech and language in children with autism. However, auditory development has been relatively under-investigated in autism research, despite its inextricable relationship with language development and despite researchers’ ability to detect abnormalities in brain development and behavior in early infancy. In this review, we synthesize research on auditory processing in the prenatal period through infancy and childhood in typically developing children, children at high risk for autism, and children diagnosed with autism. We conclude that there are clear neurobiological and behavioral links between abnormal auditory development and the deficits in social communication seen in autism. We then offer perspectives on the need for a systematic characterization of early auditory development in autism, and identified questions to be addressed in future research on the development of autism.
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Background Auditory perceptual abnormalities are common in persons on the autism spectrum. The neurophysiologic underpinnings of these differences have frequently been studied using auditory event-related potentials (ERPs) and event-related magnetic fields (ERFs). However, no study to date has quantitatively synthesized this literature to determine whether early auditory ERP/ERF latencies or amplitudes in autistic persons differ from those of typically developing (TD) controls. Methods We searched PubMed and ProQuest for studies comparing (a) latencies/amplitudes of P1/M50, N1b, N1c, M100, P2/M200, and/or N2 ERP/ERF components evoked by pure tones and (b) paired-click sensory gating (P1/N1b amplitude suppression) in autistic individuals and TD controls. Effects were synthesized using Bayesian three-level meta-analysis. Results In response to pure tones, autistic individuals exhibited prolonged P1/M50 latencies (g=0.341, 95% CrI [0.166,0.546]), prolonged M100 latencies (g=0.319 [0.093,0.550]), reduced N1c amplitudes (g=-0.812 [-1.278,-0.187]), and reduced N2 amplitudes (g=-0.374 [-0.633,-0.179]). There were no practically significant group differences in P2/M200 latencies, N2 latencies, P1/M50 amplitudes, N1b amplitudes, M100 amplitudes, or P2/M200 amplitudes. Paired-click sensory gating was also reduced in autistic individuals (g=-0.389 [-0.619,-0.112]), although this effect was primarily driven by smaller responses to the first click stimulus. Conclusions Relative to typical controls, autistic individuals demonstrate multiple alterations in early cortical auditory processing of simple stimuli. However, most group differences were modest in size and based on small numbers of heterogeneous studies with variable quality. Future work is necessary to understand whether these neurophysiologic measures can predict clinically meaningful outcomes or serve as stratification biomarkers for the autistic population.
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This study investigated whether a brief parent-mediated intervention would increase the frequency of question asking in children with ASD. Mothers participated in a 3-week training consisting of 2-h sessions twice weekly. Data were collected in the context of concurrent multiple baseline design. Results demonstrate all three children increased frequency of question asking with two children maintaining gains. All three children demonstrated generalization of question asking to novel items, family members, and/or settings. Affect improved for two of the three children. Overall, mothers were able to reach Fidelity of Implementation during most sessions and rated the intervention as highly acceptable. Results are discussed in regard to the feasibility of providing a short-term parent-implemented intervention to increase social initiations through question asking.
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This systematic review examined definitions of “nonverbal” or “minimally verbal” and assessment measures used to evaluate communication in intervention studies focusing on improving expressive verbal communication in children with autism spectrum disorder (ASD). We reviewed sample size, number of participants, participant age, and male/female representation. Our analysis yielded relatively few studies with non/minimally verbal children with ASD focusing on verbal expressive communication. Further, we found large inconsistencies in measures used, definitions of “nonverbal” and “minimally verbal”, and ages targeted. Guidelines are suggested to create a more uniform assessment protocol with systematic descriptions of early communication learners as a foundational step for understanding the heterogeneity in this group and replicating research findings for this subgroup of children with ASD.
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People with autism spectrum disorder (ASD) often present with comorbid impairments. As over 70% of children with ASD meet the criteria for at least one comorbid psychiatric disorder, comorbidity is the rule rather than the exception. Some comorbid psychopathologies are especially prevalent, including schizophrenia, depression and attention deficit hyperactivity disorder (ADHD), begging the question of whether a common aetiology underlies their development. In comparison with the neurotypical population, the brains of people with ASD more frequently show atypically reduced or reversed hemispheric asymmetries for cognitive functions including language and face processing. Critically, atypical hemispheric asymmetries are also more common in schizophrenia, depression and ADHD than in the neurotypical population. This suggests that altered lateralization may play a role in predisposing not only the development of ASD but also its common comorbid psychopathologies, offering a potential account for their frequent coincidence. This paper thus reviews research examining hemispheric lateralization in children with ASD and comorbid psychopathologies to shed light on commonalities and differences in structural and functional lateralization. The research reviewed confirms a higher frequency of atypically reduced lateralization in all the disorders than in neurotypical populations, suggesting that a common genetic susceptibility may predispose alterations in hemispheric lateralization, resulting in the development of ASD and the common comorbidities. As such, atypical lateralization offers potential as a future diagnostic biomarker for ASD and concurrent psychopathologies. Research identifying the genes implicated in the loss of lateralization is vital to enable early identification and facilitate the early implementation of interventions and therapeutics.
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Disruption to language lateralisation has been proposed as a cause of developmental language impairments. In this study we tested the idea that consistency of lateralisation across different language functions is associated with language ability. A large sample of adults with variable language abilities (N = 67 with a developmental disorder affecting language and N = 37 controls) were recruited. Lateralisation was measured using functional transcranial Doppler sonography (fTCD) for three language tasks that engage different language sub‐processes (phonological decision, semantic decision and sentence generation). The whole sample was divided into those with consistent versus inconsistent lateralisation across the three tasks. Language ability (using a battery of standardised tests) was compared between the consistent and inconsistent groups. The results did not show a significant effect of lateralisation consistency on language skills. However, of the 31 individuals showing inconsistent lateralisation the vast majority (84%) were in the disorder group with only 5 controls showing such a pattern, a difference that was higher than would be expected by chance. The developmental disorder group also demonstrated weaker correlations between laterality indices across pairs of tasks. In summary, although the data did not support the hypothesis that inconsistent language lateralisation is a major cause of poor language skills, the results suggested that some subtypes of language disorder are associated with inefficient distribution of language functions between hemispheres. Inconsistent lateralisation could be a causal factor in the aetiology of language disorder, or may arise in some cases as the consequence of developmental disorder, possibly reflective of compensatory reorganisation.
Purpose This study aimed to examine whether abstract knowledge of word-level linguistic prosody is independent of or integrated with phonetic knowledge. Method Event-related potential (ERP) responses were measured from 18 adult listeners while they listened to native and nonnative word-level prosody in speech and in nonspeech. The prosodic phonology (speech) conditions included disyllabic pseudowords spoken in Chinese and in English matched for syllabic structure, duration, and intensity. The prosodic acoustic (nonspeech) conditions were hummed versions of the speech stimuli, which eliminated the phonetic content while preserving the acoustic prosodic features. Results We observed language-specific effects on the ERP that native stimuli elicited larger late negative response (LNR) amplitude than nonnative stimuli in the prosodic phonology conditions. However, no such effect was observed in the phoneme-free prosodic acoustic control conditions. Conclusions The results support the integration view that word-level linguistic prosody likely relies on the phonetic content where the acoustic cues embedded in. It remains to be examined whether the LNR may serve as a neural signature for language-specific processing of prosodic phonology beyond auditory processing of the critical acoustic cues at the suprasyllabic level.