Superior discrimination of speech pitch and its relationship to verbal ability in autism spectrum disorders
Whilst hypersensitivity to pitch information appears to be characteristic of many individuals with autism spectrum disorders little is known about the implications of such a tendency for language acquisition and development. Discrimination of systematically varied pitch differences between pairs of words, nonwords, and nonspeech pitch contour analogues was assessed in children with autism spectrum disorders (ASD) and matched controls. The findings revealed superior performance in ASD, although, like controls, discrimination of pitch in speech stimuli was poorer in this group than for nonspeech stimuli. Whilst it was hypothesized that enhanced processing of speech pitch would correlate negatively with receptive language skills in ASD, the findings did not fully support this, and enhanced discrimination skills were observed in individuals without significant language impairment. The implications of these findings for understanding heterogeneity of language ability in ASD are discussed.