Impact of auditory processing on language development in children with ASD

Principal Investigator(s):
Elaine Kwok
Grant Type:
Graduate Research
University of Western Ontario
London, ON, Canada
Year Awarded:
Cognition and Executive Function; Early Intervention


For individuals with Autism Spectrum Disorder (ASD), being able to acquire language by six years old best predicts positive life outcomes. However, acquiring spoken language can be very challenging for over 50% of children with ASD who have co-occurring language impairment (LI). Unfortunately, the causes of language impairment in these children are not well understood, which makes it difficult for clinicians to detect LI early enough to facilitate language acquisition by age six. Some evidence suggests that the inability to fully process quickly changing sounds, such as in the case of speech, is one of the causes of language impairment. This study aims to use a neurofunctional tool (i.e. electroencephalography) to study the brain responses to sound in children with co-occurring ASD and language impairment. Simple tones will be presented at a varying rate in order to estimate the optimal sound presentation speed for children with ASD and language impairment. We hypothesize that children with co-occurring ASD and language impairment are only able to process sounds presented at a slower rate compared to children with ASD but no language impairment or same age peers who are typically developing. If this is true, our result can directly impact the language therapies and education available to children with co-occurring ASD and language impairment. We will recommend an adjustment of speech rate while interacting with children with co-occurring ASD and language impairment. Since brain responses to sounds can be recorded in very young children who are yet to develop speech, our findings may also facilitate earlier identification of language impairment in young children with ASD.

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