Abnormal auditory neuromagnetic M50 and M100 responses, reflecting primary/secondary auditory cortex processing, have been reported in children who have autism spectrum disorder (ASD). Some studies have reported an association between delays in these responses and language impairment. However, as most prior research has focused on verbal individuals with ASD without cognitive impairment, rather little is known about neural activity during auditory processing in minimally verbal or nonverbal children who have ASD (ASD-MVNV)-children with little or no speech and often significant cognitive impairment. To understand the neurophysiological mechanisms underlying auditory processing in ASD-MVNV children, magnetoencephalography (MEG) measured M50 and M100 responses arising from left and right superior temporal gyri during tone stimuli in three cohorts: (1) MVNV children who have ASD (ASD-MVNV), (2) verbal children who have ASD and no intellectual disability (ASD-V), and (3) typically developing (TD) children. One hundred and five participants (8-12 years) were included in the final analyses (ASD-MVNV: n = 16, 9.85 ± 1.32 years; ASD-V: n = 55, 10.64 ± 1.31 years; TD: n = 34, 10.18 ± 1.36 years). ASD-MVNV children showed significantly delayed M50 and M100 latencies compared to TD. These delays tended to be greater than the corresponding delays in verbal children with ASD. Across cohorts, delayed latencies were associated with language and communication skills, assessed by the Vineland Adaptive Behavior Scale Communication Domain. Findings suggest that auditory cortex neural activity measures could be dimensional objective indices of language impairment in ASD for either diagnostic (e.g., via threshold or cutoff) or prognostic (considering the continuous variable) use.
Keywords: Auditory cortex; Autism spectrum disorder; M50/M100 responses and language impairment; Magnetoencephalography; Minimally verbal/non-verbal children; Nonverbal.