Individuals diagnosed with autism spectrum disorder (ASD) have difficulty perceiving and expressing emotions. Since prosodic changes in speech (i.e. changes in intonation, stress, rhythm, etc.) are crucial for extracting information about the emotional state of a speaker, an inability to perceive and interpret these prosodic changes may be related to impairments in social communication. This study used non-verbal emotional voice-clips to examine the ability of autistic and typically-developing children (7–13 years old) to extract affect from changes in prosody. This research also explored whether difficulty extracting affective intent from changes in prosody may be related to social competence. Autistic (n = 26) and typically-developing (n = 26) children accurately matched emotional voice-clips to emotion words, suggesting autistic children can accurately extract the affective meaning conveyed by changes in prosody. Autistic children were less accurate at matching the voice-clips to emotional faces, suggesting that autistic children may struggle to make use of prosodic information in a social context. Across both autistic and typically-developing children, prosody-face matching accuracy was found to predict overall social competence, as well as social inferencing abilities, suggesting that the inability to utilize affective information derived from a speaker’s voice may interfere with effective social communication.
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While person-first language such as “individuals with autism” is often the preference of researchers and clinicians, autistic individuals have indicated a preference for identity-first language, as it incorporates autism as a component of their identity over person-first language (61% versus 28%) (Kenny et al. 2016). A similar preference has also been expressed by parents of autistic children (51% versus 22%) (Kenny et al. 2016) and self-advocates (Sinclair 2013). As such, we will respect this preference and use identity-first language throughout this manuscript.
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We would like to acknowledge and thank the families who participated in this research, as well as the research assistants in the Autism and Developmental Disorders Lab who helped collect and analyze this data, in particular Hannah Visser and Troy Boucher. This work was supported by a grant from the Natural Science and Engineering Research Council of Canada (NSERC) awarded to Grace Iarocci and a NSERC Post-doctoral award to Nichole Scheerer. Nichole Scheerer is also the recipient of a BrainsCAN Postdoctoral Fellowship at Western University, funded by the Canada First Research Excellence Fund (CFREF). Ryan Stevenson is funded by an NSERC Discovery Grant (RGPIN2017-04656), a SSHRC Insight Grant (435-2017-0936), the University of Western Ontario Faculty DevelopmentResearch Fund, and the John R. Evans Leaders Fund from the Canadian Foundation for Innovation (Project#37497)
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Scheerer, N.E., Shafai, F., Stevenson, R.A. et al. Affective Prosody Perception and the Relation to Social Competence in Autistic and Typically Developing Children . J Abnorm Child Psychol 48, 965–975 (2020). https://doi.org/10.1007/s10802-020-00644-5
- Autism Spectrum Disorder, ASD
- Speech Perception
- Affective Prosody, Emotion
- Social Skills