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Eye-voice span during rapid automatized naming: Evidence of reduced automaticity in individuals with autism spectrum disorder and their siblings

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Hogan-Brown, A. L., Hoedemaker, R. S., Gordon, P. C., & Losh, M. (2014). Eye-voice span during rapid automatized naming: Evidence of reduced automaticity in individuals with autism spectrum disorder and their siblings. Journal of Neurodevelopmental Disorders, 6(1): 33. doi:10.1186/1866-1955-6-33.

Background: Individuals with autism spectrum disorder (ASD) and their parents demonstrate impaired performance in rapid automatized naming (RAN), a task that recruits a variety of linguistic and executive processes. Though the basic processes that contribute to RAN differences remain unclear, eye-voice relationships, as measured through eye tracking, can provide insight into cognitive and perceptual processes contributing to RAN performance. For example, in RAN, eye-voice span (EVS), the distance ahead the eyes are when articulation of a target item's label begins, is an indirect measure of automaticity of the processes underlying RAN. The primary objective of this study was to investigate automaticity in naming processes, as indexed by EVS during RAN. The secondary objective was to characterize RAN difficulties in individuals with ASD and their siblings. Methods: Participants (aged 15 – 33 years) included 21 individuals with ASD, 23 siblings of individuals with ASD, and 24 control subjects, group-matched on chronological age. Naming time, frequency of errors, and EVS were measured during a RAN task and compared across groups. Results: A stepwise pattern of RAN performance was observed, with individuals with ASD demonstrating the slowest naming across all RAN conditions, controls demonstrating the fastest naming, and siblings demonstrating intermediate performance. Individuals with ASD exhibited smaller EVSs than controls on all RAN conditions, and siblings exhibited smaller EVSs during number naming (the most highly automatized type of naming). EVSs were correlated with naming times in controls only, and only in the more automatized conditions. Conclusions: These results suggest that reduced automaticity in the component processes of RAN may underpin differences in individuals with ASD and their siblings. These findings also provide further support that RAN abilities are impacted by genetic liability to ASD. This study has important implications for understanding the underlying skills contributing to language-related deficits in ASD.