Severity of autism is related to children's language processing
Bavin, E. L., Kidd, E., Prendergast, L., Baker, E., Dissanayake, C., & Prior, M.
Severity of autism is related to children's language processing. Autism Research, 7
(6), 687-694. doi:10.1002/aur.1410.
Problems in language processing have been associated with autism spectrum disorder (ASD), with some research attributing the problems to overall language skills rather than a diagnosis of ASD. Lexical access was assessed in a looking-while-listening task in three groups of 5- to 7-year-old children; two had high-functioning ASD (HFA), an ASD severe (ASD-S) group (n = 16) and an ASD moderate (ASD-M) group (n = 21). The third group were typically developing (TD) (n = 48). Participants heard sentences of the form “Where's the x?” and their eye movements to targets (e.g., train), phonological competitors (e.g., tree), and distractors were recorded. Proportions of looking time at target were analyzed within 200 ms intervals. Significant group differences were found between the ASD-S and TD groups only, at time intervals 1000–1200 and 1200–1400 ms postonset. The TD group was more likely to be fixated on target. These differences were maintained after adjusting for language, verbal and nonverbal IQ, and attention scores. An analysis using parent report of autistic-like behaviors showed higher scores to be associated with lower proportions of looking time at target, regardless of group. Further analysis showed fixation for the TD group to be significantly faster than for the ASD-S. In addition, incremental processing was found for all groups. The study findings suggest that severity of autistic behaviors will impact significantly on children's language processing in real life situations when exposed to syntactically complex material. They also show the value of using online methods for understanding how young children with ASD process language. Autism Res 2014, 7: 687–694.