Studies of children and adults with ASD have shown that they process sensory information in atypical ways, though all prior research has focused on verbal individuals with ASD. In this project we explore the hypothesis that minimally verbal children and adolescents with ASD cannot organize the auditory environment into meaningful units or objects, which may account for their profound deficits in spoken language ability. As suggested from other research, these atypical perceptual patterns may arise from abnormalities in anatomical and functional neural connectivity, which affects how neural regions interact during speech perception and production.
Aim 1 will characterize auditory processing and neural oscillations in adolescents (14-17 years old) with ASD, compared to typically developing age and gender matched controls. Three groups of 25 adolescents with ASD varying in language level will be included: minimally verbal, verbal but language impaired, and normal language. The experiments will rely on passive paradigms and use event-related potentials (ERP) and spectre-temporal analyses of EEG to evaluate auditory processing. We hypothesize that the groups will differ in their neural indices of auditory perception, neural indices of perceptual organization (mismatch negativity) and neural oscillations (theta and gamma frequency bands), and that the degree of language impairment predicts individual differences in the neural measures.
Aim 2 will investigate whether the neural measures of auditory perception and neural oscillation patterns are able to predict response to a novel intervention for minimally verbal children. Auditory Motor Mapping Training (AMMT), that will be implemented in Project I of the ACE, and whether these measures show changes as a measure of intervention success. Together, the studies to be conducted in this project will advance our understanding of the mechanisms that underlie language variation in ASD, and may provide an explanation for why some children fail to acquire spoken language.

Public Health Relevance

Approximately 30% of children with ASD remain minimally verbal often despite years of standard interventions. Little is known about this group as they are rarely included in research studies. This project will advance our understanding about whether atypical auditory processing and neural oscillation patterns, a measure of brain connectivity, may underlie the deficits in this group. The studies may lead to new effective interventions that will improve the outcomes of these children and quality of life for their families.

National Institute of Health (NIH)
National Institute on Deafness and Other Communication Disorders (NIDCD)
Specialized Center (P50)
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Special Emphasis Panel (ZHD1-DSR-Y (54))
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Boston University
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