Duration Perception of Autistic Children in the Context of Mandarin Chinese

Friday, May 16, 2014
Atrium Ballroom (Marriott Marquis Atlanta)
Y. Fan1, Y. Fan2, L. Yu1, D. Huang2, Z. Deng1, D. Wang2 and S. Wang1, (1)Department of Psychology, South China Normal University, Guangzhou, China, (2)Guangzhou Cana School (Guangzhou Rehabilitation and Research Center for Children with ASD), Guangzhou, China
Background: Studies of western languages (e.g. English), using speech and non-speech materials of various complexity, have consistently reported superiority of pitch perception and impaired duration perception in autistic individuals (e.g. Lepistö et al., 2005). However, pitch and duration have language-specific properties. Besides the perceptual function shared in both kinds of languages, pitch in Mandarin Chinese also has semantic function. Meanwhile duration in Mandarin Chinese does not carry higher-level semantic information as it does in Western languages. Only one research in Mandarin Chinese investigated the pitch perception of autistic children, demonstrating different results (Yu, in preparation). They observed perception deficits of lexical tone and non-lexical counterparts  in Chinese autistic children, and the pitch perception superiority found in previous Western studies only remains in the pure tone condition. So far the duration perception in Chinese autistic children is still unclear. And how does language differences contribute to the incoherence of the cross-culture studies also needs a deeper discussion. 

Objectives:  We aimed to examine autistic children’s duration perception in the context of Mandarin Chinese and tried to explain the language specific results. 

Methods:  The current study investigated the duration perception of autistic children in the context of Mandarin Chinese. Seventeen Mandarin speaking children with autism (14 males) and seventeen TD controls (14 males) participated in the current study. We applied the passive oddball paradigm which elicits the ERP component of  Mismatch Negativity (MMN) to investigate the participants’ auditory sensitivity to duration changes.Three kinds of linguistic and non-linguistic sound materials were chosen—pure tone, Chinese single character and its non-lexical counterparts.

Results:  The results supported the view of language specific auditory perception. Only in the pure tone condition, did the Chinese autistic children show duration perception deficits. In the conditions of lexical materials and non-lexical counterparts, the perception inferiority disappeared and it even tends to be superiority in some electrodes in the lexical condition. This suggests that autistic children are intact in discriminating linguistic duration information in Mandarin Chinese.

Conclusions:  Most of the previous studies reporting auditory abnormality of autistic individuals are based on the western languages. According to the results discrepancy between specific languages indicated by the current study, we argue that language experience would affect the auditory representations in autistic individuals. It may be the lack of social input that leads to the interruption of forming language-specific phonetic representations during their early childhood. This study would draw more attention to the issue of language specificity. Cross-culture factors needs to be considered cautiously when make conclusions in linguistic area.