Development of Neural Responses to Hearing Own Name in Infants at Low and High Risk for ASD
People attend to their own name even in noisy environments and use this as a signal to follow social conversations. Typically developing infants start to orient towards the sound of their own name already at 4-5 months of age, which was also observed by altered neural responses via event-related potentials (ERPs). A reduced attention to this ostensive cue was however detected in infants who are at high risk for autism spectrum disorder (ASD) and is considered to be an early sign of ASD. Enhanced attention to the own name may be important for language acquisition by functioning as a tool for speech segmentation, particularly in the beginning of the second year of life when language acquisition progresses very fast. Therefore, a reduction in this attention may result in weakened early social information processing, interfering with the development of social skills.
With this study, we aimed to identify the neural patterns of two infant groups at low-risk (LR) and high-risk for developing ASD (HR), longitudinally at the ages of 10 and 14 months, while they were hearing their own name versus a stranger’s name.
Data from 68 10-month-old infants and 72 14-month-old infants were collected. After excluding data from 32 infants due to excessive movement and artifacts, data from 25 LR and 28 HR at the age of 10 months and 25 LR and 30 HR at the age of 14 months were analyzed. ERPs were measured during an own name/stranger name task with both balanced auditory and visual stimuli (Parise et al, 2010).
The ERP components were investigated in three different time-windows. At the age of 10M the LR infants’ neural responses to hearing their own name already differed from hearing a stranger’s name in the early component (100-300ms post-stimuli), indicating an early involuntary attention to the own name. The HR group failed to show the same response. At the age of 14M, groups showed a different lateralization to hearing their own name versus a stranger name in the same early time-window. The groups particularly differed in their response to hearing their own name in the left frontal area. Likewise, in the later time-windows indicating attentional engagement, the atypical patterns in the ERPs of the HR group became apparent by the age of 14M.
The preliminary results suggest that LR infants discriminated and paid more attention to their own name compared to a stranger name already by the age of 10 months; while HR infants did not show the same effects, implying that they may not pay special attention to their own name. In addition, differences between HR and LR infants were identified more clearly by the age of 14 months. These results imply that HR infants become differentiated from LR infants by their brain development around the age of 1 year with respect to paying attention to their own names. Associations of the ERPs to hearing one’s own name with later social-communicative functioning will be presented at the conference.