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Abstract

Data on typically developing children suggest a link between social interaction and language learning, a finding of interest both to theories of language and theories of autism. In this study, we examined social and linguistic processing of speech in preschool children with autism spectrum disorder (ASD) and typically developing chronologically matched (TDCA) and mental age matched (TDMA) children. The social measure was an auditory preference test that pitted ‘motherese’ speech samples against non-speech analogs of the same signals. The linguistic measure was phonetic discrimination assessed with mismatch negativity (MMN), an event-related potential (ERP). As a group, children with ASD differed from controls by: (a) demonstrating a preference for the non-speech analog signals, and (b) failing to show a significant MMN in response to a syllable change. When ASD children were divided into subgroups based on auditory preference, and the ERP data reanalyzed, ASD children who preferred non-speech still failed to show an MMN, whereas ASD children who preferred motherese did not differ from the controls. The data support the hypothesis of an association between social and linguistic processing in children with ASD.