“Did Somebody Call My Name?” Neural Responses to Hearing Their Own Name in Infants at Low and High Risk for Autism Spectrum Disorder at 14 Months of Age
People attend to their own name even in noisy environments and use this as a signal to follow social conversations. Typically developing infants start to orient towards the sound of their own name already at 4-5 months of age, which was also observed by altered neural responses via event-related potentials (ERP). A reduced attention to this ostensive cue was however detected in infants who are at high risk for autism spectrum disorder (ASD) and it is considered to be an early sign of ASD.
Because enhanced attention to the own name may be important for language acquisition by functioning as a tool for speech segmentation, a reduction in this attention may result in weakened early social information processing, interfering with the development of social skills. Therefore, the own name as social cue may play a particularly significant role in the beginning of the second year of life, since at that age language acquisition progresses very fast.
The aim of this study was to investigate whether 14-month-old infants at high-risk for ASD show a different ERP pattern compared to infants at low-risk for ASD, in the way they process personal names and more specifically their own name. It was hypothesized that the infants at high-risk for ASD would show extenuated ERP responses to their own name compared to an unfamiliar name.
Initially, data from 46 14-months-old infants at low-risk and high-risk for ASD were collected. After excluding data from 20 infants due to excessive movement and artifacts, data from 16 low-risk and 10 high-risk group infants were included in the analyses. ERPs were measured during an own name/unfamiliar name task with both balanced auditory and visual stimuli (Parise et al, 2010). The Mullen Scales of Early Learning (Mullen, 1995) were administered to assess cognitive abilities of the infants.
The stronger N200-600 component on the right parietal electrodes and significantly stronger positivity on the right frontal electrodes evidenced that the low-risk infants discriminated and paid more attention to their own name compared to the unfamiliar name. No such differences were detected within the high-risk group. Significant group differences were found during the own name presentations (right frontal ROI p = .047), yet both groups showed similar ERP patterns during the stranger’s name presentations. Despite the small initial subject size, differences were clear and in the expected direction.
This study is the first study showing the different neural responses in 14-month-old infants that are at high-risk for ASD, to the unique and very important social cue which introduces periods of communication: “the own name”. The preliminary results of 26 subjects suggest that infants at risk for ASD have specifically diminished attention for their own name, rather than a general diminished attention for speech. The results of an extended sample will be presented at the conference.