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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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ORIGINAL PAPER
Journal of Autism and Developmental Disorders
https://doi.org/10.1007/s10803-022-05720-x
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
yuluodi@gzhu.edu.cn
Suiping Wang
wangsuiping@m.scnu.edu.cn
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,
China
4 Department of Speech-Language-Hearing Sciences,
University of Minnesota, Minneapolis, MN, USA
Abstract
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. ...
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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.