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Auditory Discrimination and Auditory Sensory Behaviours in Autism Spectrum Disorders

By Catherine Jones and Tony Charman


It has been hypothesised that auditory processing may be enhanced in autism spectrum disorders (ASD). We tested auditory discrimination ability in 72 adolescents with ASD (39 childhood autism; 33 other ASD) and 57 IQ and age-matched controls, assessing their capacity for successful discrimination of the frequency, intensity and duration differences in pairs of sounds.At the group level, auditory discrimination ability did not differ between the adolescents with and without ASD. However, we found a subgroup of 20% of individuals in the ASD group who showed ‘exceptional’ frequency discrimination skills (defined as 1.65 SDs above the control mean) and who were characterised by average intellectual ability and delayed language onset. Auditory sensory behaviours (i.e. behaviours in response to auditory sensory input) are common in ASD and we hypothesised that these would relate to auditory discrimination ability. For the ASD group, poor performers on the intensity discrimination task reported more auditory sensory behaviours associated with coping with loudness levels. Conversely, those who performed well on the duration discrimination task reported more auditory sensory behaviours across the full range measured. Frequency discrimination ability did not associate with auditory sensory behaviours. We therefore conclude that (i) enhanced frequency discrimination is present in around 1 in 5 individuals with ASD and may represent a specific phenotype; and (ii) individual differences in auditory discrimination ability in ASD may influence the expression of auditory sensory behaviours by modulating the degree to which sounds are detected or missed in the environment

Year: 2009
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