In typically developing (TD) individuals, behavioral and event-related potential (ERP) studies suggest that audiovisual (AV) integration enables faster and more efficient processing of speech. However, little is known about AV speech processing in individuals with autism spectrum disorders (ASD). This study examined ERP responses to spoken words to elucidate the effects of visual speech (the lip movements accompanying a spoken word) on the range of auditory speech processing stages from sound onset detection to semantic integration. The study also included an AV condition, which paired spoken words with a dynamic scrambled face in order to highlight AV effects specific to visual speech. Fourteen adolescent boys with ASD (15-17 years old) and 14 age- and verbal IQ-matched TD boys participated. The ERP of the TD group showed a pattern and topography of AV interaction effects consistent with activity within the superior temporal plane, with two dissociable effects over frontocentral and centroparietal regions. The posterior effect (200-300 ms interval) was specifically sensitive to lip movements in TD boys, and no AV modulation was observed in this region for the ASD group. Moreover, the magnitude of the posterior AV effect to visual speech correlated inversely with ASD symptomatology. In addition, the ASD boys showed an unexpected effect (P2 time window) over the frontocentral region (pooled electrodes F3, Fz, F4, FC1, FC2, FC3, FC4), which was sensitive to scrambled face stimuli. These results suggest that the neural networks facilitating processing of spoken words by visual speech are altered in individuals with ASD.
Copyright © 2011, International Society for Autism Research, Wiley-Liss, Inc.