Auditory processing and sensory behaviours in children with autism spectrum disorders as revealed by mismatch negativity
Sensory dysfunctions may underlie key characteristics in children with Autism Spectrum Disorders (ASD). The current study aimed to investigate auditory change detection in children with ASD in order to determine event-related potentials to meaningless and meaningful speech stimuli. 11 high functioning boys with a diagnosis of autism spectrum disorders (mean age=13.0; SD=1.08) and 11 typically developing boys (mean age=13.7; SD=1.5) participated in a mismatch negativity (MMN) paradigm. Results revealed that compared to TD controls, the children with ASD showed significantly reduced MMN responses to both words and pseudowords in the frontal regions of the brain and also a significant reduction in their activation for words in the Central Parietal regions. In order to test the relationship between sensory processing and auditory processing, children completed the Adult and Adolescent Sensory Profile. As predicted, the children with ASD showed more extreme sensory behaviours and were significantly higher than their typically developing controls across three of the sensory quadrants (sensory sensitivity, low registration and sensory avoidance). Importantly, only auditory sensory sensitivity was able to account for the differences displayed for words in the frontal and central parietal regions when controlling for the effect of group, revealing an inverse relationship of the higher sensory sensitivity scores the less activation in response for words. We discuss how the expression of sensory behaviours in ASD may result in deficient neurophysiological mechanisms underlying automatic language processing.