Affective Prosody Perception and the Relation to Social Competence in Autistic and Typically Developing Children

Abstract

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.

This is a preview of subscription content, log in to check access.

Fig. 1
Fig. 2
Fig. 3

Notes

  1. 1.

    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.

References

  1. Auyeung, B., Baron-Cohen, S., Wheelwright, S., & Allison, C. (2008). The autism spectrum quotient: Children’s version (AQ-Child). Journal of Autism and Developmental Disorders, 38(7), 1230–1240.

    PubMed  Google Scholar 

  2. Balconi, M., & Carrera, A. (2007). Emotional representation in facial expression and script: A comparison between normal and autistic children. Research in Developmental Disabilities, 28(4), 409–422.

    PubMed  Google Scholar 

  3. Baron-Cohen, S., Hoekstra, R. A., Knickmeyer, R., & Wheelwright, S. (2006). The autism-spectrum quotient (AQ)—adolescent version. Journal of Autism and Developmental Disorders, 36(3), 343.

    PubMed  Google Scholar 

  4. Bebko, J. M., Weiss, J. A., Demark, J. L., & Gomez, P. (2006). Discrimination of temporal synchrony in intermodal events by children with autism and children with developmental disabilities without autism. Journal of Child Psychology and Psychiatry, 47(1), 88–98.

    PubMed  Google Scholar 

  5. Belin, P., Fillion-Bilodeau, S., & Gosselin, F. (2008). The Montreal Affective Voices: a validated set of nonverbal affect bursts for research on auditory affective processing. Behavior Research Methods, 40(2), 531–539.

    PubMed  Google Scholar 

  6. Boucher, J., & Lewis, V. (1992). Unfamiliar face recognition in relatively able autistic children. Journal of Child Psychology and Psychiatry, 33(5), 843–859.

    PubMed  Google Scholar 

  7. Boucher, J., Lewis, V., & Collis, G. (1998). Familiar face and voice matching and recognition in children with autism. The Journal of Child Psychology and Psychiatry and Allied Disciplines, 39(2), 171–181.

    Google Scholar 

  8. Boucher, J., Lewis, V., & Collis, G. M. (2000). Voice processing abilities in children with autism, children with specific language impairments, and young typically developing children. The Journal of Child Psychology and Psychiatry and Allied Disciplines, 41(7), 847–857.

    Google Scholar 

  9. Brennand, R., Schepman, A., & Rodway, P. (2011). Vocal emotion perception in pseudo-sentences by secondary-school children with autism spectrum disorder. Research in Autism Spectrum Disorders, 5(4), 1567–1573.

    Google Scholar 

  10. Charbonneau, G., Bertone, A., Lepore, F., Nassim, M., Lassonde, M., Mottron, L., & Collignon, O. (2013). Multilevel alterations in the processing of audio–visual emotion expressions in autism spectrum disorders. Neuropsychologia, 51(5), 1002–1010.

    PubMed  Google Scholar 

  11. Chevallier, C., Noveck, I., Happé, F., & Wilson, D. (2011). What’s in a voice? Prosody as a test case for the Theory of Mind account of autism. Neuropsychologia, 49(3), 507–517.

  12. Cooper, R. P., & Aslin, R. N. (1994). Developmental differences in infant attention to the spectral properties of infant-directed speech. Child Development, 65(6), 1663–1677.

    PubMed  Google Scholar 

  13. de Boer-Schellekens, L., Keetels, M., Eussen, M., & Vroomen, J. (2013). No evidence for impaired multisensory integration of low-level audiovisual stimuli in adolescents and young adults with autism spectrum disorders. Neuropsychologia, 51(14), 3004–3013.

    PubMed  Google Scholar 

  14. Durkin, K., & Conti-Ramsden, G. (2007). Language, social behavior, and the quality of friendships in adolescents with and without a history of specific language impairment. Child Development, 78(5), 1441–1457.

    PubMed  Google Scholar 

  15. Ekman, P. (1992). An argument for basic emotions. Cognition & Emotion, 6(3–4), 169–200.

    Google Scholar 

  16. Fernald, A. (1993). Approval and disapproval: Infant responsiveness to vocal affect in familiar and unfamiliar languages. Child Development, 64(3), 657–674.

    PubMed  Google Scholar 

  17. Foxe, J. J., Molholm, S., Del Bene, V. A., Frey, H. P., Russo, N. N., Blanco, D., et al. (2013). Severe multisensory speech integration deficits in high-functioning school-aged children with autism spectrum disorder (ASD) and their resolution during early adolescence. Cerebral Cortex, 25(2), 298–312.

    PubMed  Google Scholar 

  18. Gebauer, L., Skewes, J., Hørlyck, L., & Vuust, P. (2014). Atypical perception of affective prosody in Autism Spectrum Disorder. NeuroImage: Clinical, 6, 370–378.

    Google Scholar 

  19. Goeleven, E., De Raedt, R., Leyman, L., & Verschuere, B. (2008). The Karolinska directed emotional faces: a validation study. Cognition and Emotion, 22(6), 1094–1118.

    Google Scholar 

  20. Golan, O., Baron-Cohen, S., & Hill, J. (2006). The Cambridge mindreading (CAM) face-voice battery: Testing complex emotion recognition in adults with and without Asperger syndrome. Journal of Autism and Developmental Disorders, 36(2), 169–183.

    PubMed  Google Scholar 

  21. Heaton, P., Reichenbacher, L., Sauter, D., Allen, R., Scott, S., & Hill, E. (2012). Measuring the effects of alexithymia on perception of emotional vocalizations in autistic spectrum disorder and typical development. Psychological Medicine, 42(11), 2453–2459.

    PubMed  Google Scholar 

  22. Hobson, R. P., Ouston, J., & Lee, A. (1988). Emotion recognition in autism: Coordinating faces and voices. Psychological Medicine, 18(4), 911–923.

    PubMed  Google Scholar 

  23. Johnston, K. H. S., & Iarocci, G. (2017). Are generalized anxiety and depression symptoms associated with social competence in children with and without autism spectrum disorder? Journal of Autism and Developmental Disorders, 47(12), 3778–3788.

    PubMed  Google Scholar 

  24. Kenny, L., Hattersley, C., Molins, B., Buckley, C., Povey, C., & Pellicano, E. (2016). Which terms should be used to describe autism? Perspectives from the UK autism community. Autism, 20(4), 442–462.

    PubMed  Google Scholar 

  25. Klin, A. (1991). Young autistic children's listening preferences in regard to speech: a possible characterization of the symptom of social withdrawal. Journal of Autism and Developmental Disorders, 21(1), 29–42.

    PubMed  Google Scholar 

  26. Kuhl, P. K. (1994). Learning and representation in speech and language. Current Opinion in Neurobiology, 4(6), 812–822.

    PubMed  Google Scholar 

  27. Kuhl, P. K., Coffey-Corina, S., Padden, D., & Dawson, G. (2005). Links between social and linguistic processing of speech in preschool children with autism: behavioral and electrophysiological measures. Developmental Science, 8(1), F1–F12.

    PubMed  Google Scholar 

  28. Le Sourn-Bissaoui, S., Aguert, M., Girard, P., Chevreuil, C., & Laval, V. (2013). Emotional speech comprehension in children and adolescents with autism spectrum disorders. Journal of Communication Disorders, 46(4), 309–320.

    PubMed  Google Scholar 

  29. Loveland, K. A., & Landry, S. H. (1986). Joint attention and language in autism and developmental language delay. Journal of Autism and Developmental Disorders, 16(3), 335–349.

    PubMed  Google Scholar 

  30. Loveland, K. A., Tunali-Kotoski, B., Chen, R., Brelsford, K. A., Ortegon, J., & Pearson, D. A. (1995). Intermodal perception of affect in persons with autism or Down syndrome. Development and Psychopathology, 7(3), 409–418.

    Google Scholar 

  31. Loveland, K. A., Belgin Tunali-Kotoski, Y., Chen, R., Ortegon, J., Pearson, D. A., Brelsford, K. A., & Gibbs, M. C. (1997). Emotion recognition in autism: Verbal and nonverbal information. Development and Psychopathology, 9(3), 579–593.

    PubMed  Google Scholar 

  32. Lundqvist, D., Flykt, A., & Öhman, A. (1998). The Karolinska directed emotional faces (KDEF). CD ROM from Department of Clinical Neuroscience, Psychology section, Karolinska Institutet, 91, 630.

    Google Scholar 

  33. McCann, J., & Peppé, S. (2003). Prosody in autism spectrum disorders: a critical review. International Journal of Language & Communication Disorders, 38(4), 325–350.

    Google Scholar 

  34. McCann, J., Peppé, S., Gibbon, F. E., O'Hare, A., & Rutherford, M. (2007). Prosody and its relationship to language in school-aged children with high-functioning autism. International Journal of Language & Communication Disorders, 42(6), 682–702.

    Google Scholar 

  35. Paul, R., Augustyn, A., Klin, A., & Volkmar, F. R. (2005). Perception and production of prosody by speakers with autism spectrum disorders. Journal of Autism and Developmental Disorders, 35(2), 205–220.

    PubMed  Google Scholar 

  36. Pennington, B. F., & Ozonoff, S. (1991). A neuroscientific perspec- tive on continuity and discontinuity in developmental psychopathology. In D. Cicchetti & S. L. Toth (Eds.), Rochester symposium on developmental psychopathology: Models and integrations (pp. 117–159). Rochester, NY: University of Rochester Press.

    Google Scholar 

  37. Peppé, S., McCann, J., Gibbon, F., O’Hare, A., & Rutherford, M. (2007). Receptive and expressive prosodic ability in children with high-functioning autism. Journal of Speech, Language, and Hearing Research, 50(4), 1015–1028.

    PubMed  Google Scholar 

  38. Prior, M., Dahlstrom, B., & Squires, T. L. (1990). Autistic children's knowledge of thinking and feeling states in other people. Journal of Child Psychology and Psychiatry, 31(4), 587–601.

    PubMed  Google Scholar 

  39. Rosenblau, G., Kliemann, D., Dziobek, I., & Heekeren, H. R. (2017). Emotional prosody processing in autism spectrum disorder. Social Cognitive and Affective Neuroscience, 12(2), 224–239.

    PubMed  Google Scholar 

  40. Rutherford, M. D., Baron-Cohen, S., & Wheelwright, S. (2002). Reading the mind in the voice: A study with normal adults and adults with Asperger syndrome and high functioning autism. Journal of Autism and Developmental Disorders, 32(3), 189–194.

    PubMed  Google Scholar 

  41. Saint-Georges, C., Chetouani, M., Cassel, R., Apicella, F., Mahdhaoui, A., Muratori, F., et al. (2013). Motherese in interaction: at the cross-road of emotion and cognition? (A systematic review). PLoS One, 8(10), e78103.

    PubMed  PubMed Central  Google Scholar 

  42. Shanker, S. (2004). Autism and the dynamic developmental model of emotions. Philosophy, Psychiatry, & Psychology, 11(3), 219–233.

    Google Scholar 

  43. Sinclair, J. (2013). Why I dislike “person first” language. Autonomy, the Critical Journal of Interdisciplinary Autism Studies, 1(2).

  44. Stephens, K., Nickerson, R., & Rollins, A. (1983). Suprasegmental and postural aspects of speech production and their effect on articulatory skills and intelligibility. In I. Hochberg, H. Levitt, & M. Osberger (Eds.), Speech of the hearing impaired: Research, training and personnel preparation (pp. 35–51). Baltimore: University Park Press.

    Google Scholar 

  45. Stevenson, R. A., Siemann, J. K., Schneider, B. C., Eberly, H. E., Woynaroski, T. G., Camarata, S. M., & Wallace, M. T. (2014). Multisensory temporal integration in autism spectrum disorders. Journal of Neuroscience, 34(3), 691–697.

    PubMed  Google Scholar 

  46. Stevenson, R. A., Segers, M., Ncube, B. L., Black, K. R., Bebko, J. M., Ferber, S., & Barense, M. D. (2018). The cascading influence of multisensory processing on speech perception in autism. Autism, 22(5), 609–624.

    PubMed  Google Scholar 

  47. Stewart, M. E., McAdam, C., Ota, M., Peppé, S., & Cleland, J. (2013). Emotional recognition in autism spectrum conditions from voices and faces. Autism, 17(1), 6–14.

    PubMed  Google Scholar 

  48. Tanaka, J. W., & Sung, A. (2016). The “eye avoidance” hypothesis of autism face processing. Journal of Autism and Developmental Disorders, 46(5), 1538–1552.

    PubMed  PubMed Central  Google Scholar 

  49. Volkmar, F. R., & Klin, A. (2005). Issues in the classification of autism and related conditions. In F. R. Volkmar, R. Paul, A. Klin, & D. Cohen (Eds.), Handbook of autism and developmental disorders (3rd ed., pp. 5–41). Hoboken, NJ: John Wiley & Sons, Inc..

    Google Scholar 

  50. Wechsler, D. (2011). WASI-II: Wechsler abbreviated scale of intelligence. PsychCorp.

  51. West, M. J., Copland, D. A., Arnott, W. L., Nelson, N. L., & Angwin, A. J. (2018). Effects of prosodic and semantic cues on facial emotion recognition in relation to autism-like traits. Journal of Autism and Developmental Disorders, 48(8), 2611–2618.

    PubMed  Google Scholar 

  52. Yager, J., & Iarocci, G. (2013). The development of the multidimensional social competence scale: A standardized measure of social competence in autism spectrum disorders. Autism Research, 6(6), 631–641.

    PubMed  Google Scholar 

Download references

Acknowledgements

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)

Author information

Affiliations

Authors

Corresponding author

Correspondence to Nichole E. Scheerer.

Ethics declarations

Conflict of interest

The authors declare that they have no conflict of interest.

Additional information

Publisher’s Note

Springer Nature remains neutral with regard to jurisdictional claims in published maps and institutional affiliations.

Rights and permissions

Reprints and Permissions

About this article

Verify currency and authenticity via CrossMark

Cite this article

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

Download citation

Keywords

  • Autism Spectrum Disorder, ASD
  • Speech Perception
  • Affective Prosody, Emotion
  • Communication
  • Social Skills