Brief Report: Atypical Neuromagnetic Responses to Illusory Auditory Pitch in Children with Autism Spectrum Disorders
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Atypical auditory perception is a widely recognised but poorly understood feature of autism. In the current study, we used magnetoencephalography to measure the brain responses of 10 autistic children as they listened passively to dichotic pitch stimuli, in which an illusory tone is generated by sub-millisecond inter-aural timing differences in white noise. Relative to control stimuli that contain no inter-aural timing differences, dichotic pitch stimuli typically elicit an object related negativity (ORN) response, associated with the perceptual segregation of the tone and the carrier noise into distinct auditory objects. Autistic children failed to demonstrate an ORN, suggesting a failure of segregation; however, comparison with the ORNs of age-matched typically developing controls narrowly failed to attain significance. More striking, the autistic children demonstrated a significant differential response to the pitch stimulus, peaking at around 50 ms. This was not present in the control group, nor has it been found in other groups tested using similar stimuli. This response may be a neural signature of atypical processing of pitch in at least some autistic individuals.
KeywordsAuditory evoked potentials Auditory perception Autism MEG
We thank the children and their families as well as the staff of Autism Spectrum Australia and Macquarie University Special Education Centre for their participation in the study. The work was supported by an Australian Research Council (ARC) Australian Research Fellowship and Discovery Project (DP098466), an ARC Linkage Infrastructure Equipment and Facilities Grant LEO668421, the Hearing CRC, and the ARC Centre of Excellence in Cognition and its Disorders (CE110001021). The authors gratefully acknowledge the collaboration of Kanazawa Institute of Technology and Yokogawa Electric Corporation in establishing the KIT-Macquarie MEG laboratory.
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