Autism spectrum disorder (ASD) is often characterized by atypical language profiles and auditory and speech processing. These can contribute to aberrant language and social communication skills in ASD. The study of the neural basis of speech perception in ASD can serve as a potential neurobiological marker of ASD early on, but mixed results across studies renders it difficult to find a reliable neural characterization of speech processing in ASD. To this aim, the present study examined the functional neural basis of speech perception in ASD versus typical development (TD) using an activation likelihood estimation (ALE) meta-analysis of 18 qualifying studies. The present study included separate analyses for TD and ASD, which allowed us to examine patterns of within-group brain activation as well as both common and distinct patterns of brain activation across the ASD and TD groups. Overall, ASD and TD showed mostly common brain activation of speech processing in bilateral superior temporal gyrus (STG) and left inferior frontal gyrus (IFG). However, the results revealed trends for some distinct activation in the TD group showing additional activation in higher-order brain areas including left superior frontal gyrus (SFG), left medial frontal gyrus (MFG), and right IFG. These results provide a more reliable neural characterization of speech processing in ASD relative to previous single neuroimaging studies and motivate future work to investigate how these brain signatures relate to behavioral measures of speech processing in ASD.
Keywords: Activation likelihood estimation; Autism spectrum disorder; Functional magnetic resonance imaging (fMRI); Speech perception.
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