Expressive and Receptive Prosody in Autism (Prosody in Autism)
This project, led by Jan van Santen and Lois Black, and joint with Rhea Paul and Fred Volkmar at Yale's Child Study Center and Larry Shriberg at the University of Wisconsin's Waisman Center, focuses on automated technologies for assessment of prosodic ability in autism. Autistic Spectrum Disorders (ASD) form a group of neuropsychiatric conditions whose core behavioral features include impairments in reciprocal social interaction, in communication, and repetitive, stereotyped, or restricted interests and behaviors. The importance of prosodic deficits in the adaptive communicative competence of speakers with ASD, as well as for a fuller understanding of the social disabilities central to these disorders is generally recognized; yet current studies are few in number and have significant methodological limitations. The objective of the proposed project is to detail prosodic deficits in young speakers with ASD through a series of experiments that address these disabilities and related areas of function. Key features of the project include: 1) the application of innovative technology. The study will apply computer-based speech and language technologies for quantifying expressive prosody, for computing dialogue structure, and for generating acoustically controlled speech stimuli for measuring receptive prosody; moreover, all experiments will be delivered via computer to insure consistency of stimuli and accuracy of recording responses; 2) broad coverage of the dimensions of prosody. All three functions of prosody, grammatical, pragmatic, and affective, will be addressed; expressive and receptive tasks are included; and both contextualized tasks (dialogue, story comprehension and memory) and decontextualized tasks (e.g., vocal affect recognition) will be used; 3) inclusion of neuropsychological assessment and classification methodologies to address within-group heterogeneity and obtain a detailed characterization of the groups; 4) inclusion of two comparison groups: children with typical development and those with Developmental Language Disorder; 5) inclusion of an experimental treatment program to enhance the prosodic abilities of speakers with ASD.