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Poster A19, Thursday, August 16, 10:15 am – 12:00 pm, Room 2000AB

Neural orienting response does not differ between hearing own and other names in autistic individuals with language impairments

Sophie Schwartz1, Le Wang1, Barbara Shinn-Cunningham1, Helen Tager-Flusberg1;1Boston University

When you hear your name, you quickly turn towards its source. That’s because your name is salient and elicits a strong orienting response, even in 12-month-old infants. However, core deficits in autism disrupt automatic orienting to own name and is an early sign of the disorder. This begs the question of what other salient speech might they be missing and how this might affect language development and everyday communication. Research has found that children and adults show a positive event-related potential response (ERP) to their own name but not other peoples’ names over parietal-occipital channels around 300 milliseconds post-stimulus (i.e., a P3), in attentive and inattentive states, and even in sleep and comatose states. Moreover, recent evidence suggests that adults with autism have a smaller P3 to own name when compared to typically developing (TD) adults (Nijhof et al., 2018). Prior work has also highlighted that there may be a strong relationship between the ability to segregate streams and extract salient speech from noise and the integrity of language skills in autism. Our work expanded on prior findings by investigating ERPs to names in both quiet and multispeaker noise background, in TD listeners and autistic listeners with a wide range of language skills. We presented subjects, ages 13-23, with audio-recordings of their own and two other subjects’ names in a passive ERP paradigm while the subjects were watching a silent movie. We presented 162 trials of each name across six condition blocks, alternating between quiet and noise conditions. Names were spoken by a familiar female voice, while overlaid multispeaker babble was composed of six male speakers. In the quiet condition, TD subjects showed a stronger P3 to their own name relative to other names during the first 30 presentations of each name (p=0.05), replicating prior studies that only presented this many trials. However, after 162 presentations of each name, topography of response changed. With more trials, TD subjects showed a habituated frontal channel ERP to their own name around 250-300 milliseconds relative to other names (p<0.05). When the names were presented in the noise condition, response to own name was significantly larger than to other names, lasting from 300 to 700 milliseconds, along parietal-occipital channels (i.e., a prolonged P3) (p<0.05). In contrast, subjects with autism showed no significant difference in response to their own and other names in either quiet or multispeaker noise conditions. Preliminary findings suggest that reduced differentiation between own name and other names is more pronounced in autistic subjects with more severe language impairments. This study is the first to investigate cortical response to names in multispeaker noise, not only in autism, but also in typical development. Future work will expand on these findings by considering within-subject variability as it relates to neural response and language profile. Findings may have strong implications for interventions that target sound processing in those with autism who are at heightened risk for language disorders.

Topic Area: Perception: Speech Perception and Audiovisual Integration