Scientists for the first time compared the generation and understanding of speech in Russian-speaking children with autism

Scientists for the first time compared the generation and understanding of speech in Russian-speaking children with autism
Scientists for the first time compared the generation and understanding of speech in Russian-speaking children with autism
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Researchers from the Center for Language and Brain of the Higher School of Economics, together with their Russian and American colleagues, for the first time compared the generation and understanding of speech at different linguistic levels in the same group of children with autism. This allowed them to disprove the hypothesis that children with autism understand speech worse than they speak.

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The research is published in the journal Research in Developmental Disabilities. Speech impairment, while not a diagnostic criterion for autism spectrum disorder (ASD), occurs in about 75 percent of children with ASD. At the same time, the question of what exactly - the generation or understanding of speech - is violated to a greater extent is acute in world science.

Research has led some authors to argue that speech production is better than speech comprehension, and this pattern is specific to these disorders. Researchers from the Center for Language and Brain at the Higher School of Economics, the Federal Resource Center for Comprehensive Support of Children with Autism Spectrum Disorders, Moscow State University of Psychology and Education, and Haskin Laboratories (New Haven, USA) decided to test this hypothesis.

To do this, they tested 82 Russian-speaking children with ASD and compared the production and understanding of speech at different linguistic levels in the same group of children with autism. For testing, the scientists used the KORABLIK test of speech skills developed at the Center for Language and Brain (Clinical Assessment of the Development of Basic Linguistic Competencies).

The comparison went in three directions: lexical (generation and understanding of words), morphosyntactic (generation and understanding of sentences) and discursive (generation and understanding of coherent texts). Analysis of the testing data showed that there is no single pattern in the speech of children with ASD. It cannot be said, for example, that generation is safer than understanding.

Moreover, the results indicated that the difference between production and understanding of speech depended on the linguistic level: the production of individual words in children with ASD was more impaired than their understanding; the generation and comprehension of sentences was equally disturbed; the generation of coherent texts was safer than understanding them.

“For us in this work, it was important not only to describe the difference between the production and understanding of speech in children with ASD at different linguistic levels, but also to understand whether these patterns are influenced by the level of the child's non-verbal intelligence,” says the author of the article, junior researcher at the Center language and brain Vardan Harutyunyan.

In order to understand whether the level of non-verbal intelligence (IQ) affects the revealed difference between production and understanding of speech at different linguistic levels, children with ASD were divided into two groups. The first group included children without intellectual disabilities (non-verbal IQ at the normal level) and a group of children with intellectual disabilities (non-verbal IQ below the normal level). Further, separately in two groups, the generation and understanding of words, sentences and texts were compared.

The results of the study showed that non-verbal IQ partially influenced the patterns of production and understanding of speech. At the lexical level, no difference was found between the two groups of children: the generation of individual words was more impaired than the understanding of individual words, both in the group of children without intellectual disabilities and in the group of children with intellectual disabilities.

At the morphosyntactic level, a difference was revealed in the generation and understanding of two groups of children: in children without intellectual disabilities, the generation and understanding of sentences was equally impaired, while in children with intellectual disabilities, understanding of sentences was more intact than the generation of sentences.

At the discursive level, there was also a difference between the patterns of generation and understanding in the two groups of children. In children without intellectual disabilities, there was no difference between the generation and understanding of coherent texts, while in children with intellectual disabilities, the generation of texts was more intact than their understanding.

“The difference between reproducing and understanding words, sentences and texts depends in part on non-verbal intelligence. But it is too early to talk about any patterns specific to the ASD, - Vardan Harutyunyan believes. - There are very few works that would systematically compare the generation and understanding of speech at different linguistic levels, as well as take into account the level of non-verbal IQ.

Our research is one of the first of its kind and we plan to continue our work, but using neuroimaging methods - magnetoencephalography, electroencephalography and magnetic resonance imaging”. According to scientists, knowledge of the neurobiological mechanisms of the generation and understanding of speech in children with ASD will further help both an objective diagnosis of speech disorders and competent correction and rehabilitation of speech.

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