Experimental Brain Research

, Volume 188, Issue 1, pp 111–124 | Cite as

Audio–vocal system regulation in children with autism spectrum disorders

Research Article


Do children with autism spectrum disorders (ASD) respond similarly to perturbations in auditory feedback as typically developing (TD) children? Presentation of pitch-shifted voice auditory feedback to vocalizing participants reveals a close coupling between the processing of auditory feedback and vocal motor control. This paradigm was used to test the hypothesis that abnormalities in the audio–vocal system would negatively impact ASD compensatory responses to perturbed auditory feedback. Voice fundamental frequency (F0) was measured while children produced an /a/ sound into a microphone. The voice signal was fed back to the subjects in real time through headphones. During production, the feedback was pitch shifted (−100 cents, 200 ms) at random intervals for 80 trials. Averaged voice F0 responses to pitch-shifted stimuli were calculated and correlated with both mental and language abilities as tested via standardized tests. A subset of children with ASD produced larger responses to perturbed auditory feedback than TD children, while the other children with ASD produced significantly lower response magnitudes. Furthermore, robust relationships between language ability, response magnitude and time of peak magnitude were identified. Because auditory feedback helps to stabilize voice F0 (a major acoustic cue of prosody) and individuals with ASD have problems with prosody, this study identified potential mechanisms of dysfunction in the audio–vocal system for voice pitch regulation in some children with ASD. Objectively quantifying this deficit may inform both the assessment of a subgroup of ASD children with prosody deficits, as well as remediation strategies that incorporate pitch training.


Autism Vocal production Auditory feedback 


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Copyright information

© Springer-Verlag 2008

Authors and Affiliations

  • Nicole Russo
    • 1
    • 2
  • Charles Larson
    • 1
    • 2
    • 4
  • Nina Kraus
    • 1
    • 2
    • 3
    • 4
  1. 1.The Roxelyn and Richard Pepper Department of Communication SciencesNorthwestern UniversityEvanstonUSA
  2. 2.Northwestern University Interdepartmental Neuroscience ProgramNorthwestern UniversityEvanstonUSA
  3. 3.Department of Neurobiology and PhysiologyNorthwestern UniversityEvanstonUSA
  4. 4.Department of OtolaryngologyNorthwestern UniversityEvanstonUSA

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