Background: The development of left and right superior temporal gyrus (STG) 50 ms (M50) and 100 ms (M100) auditory responses in typically developing (TD) children and in children with autism spectrum disorder (ASD) was examined. Reflecting differential development of primary/secondary auditory areas and supporting previous studies, it was hypothesized that whereas left and right M50 STG responses would be observed equally often in younger and older children, left and right M100 STG responses would more often be absent in younger than older children. In ASD, delayed neurodevelopment would be indicated via the observation of a greater proportion of ASD than TD subjects showing missing M100 but not M50 responses in both age groups. Missing M100 responses would be observed primarily in children with ASD with language impairment (ASD + LI) (and perhaps concomitantly lower general cognitive abilities).
Methods: Thirty-five TD controls, 63 ASD without language impairment (ASD − LI), and 38 ASD + LI were recruited. Binaural tones were presented. The presence or absence of a STG M50 and M100 was scored. Subjects were grouped into younger (6–10 years old) and older groups (11–15 years old).
Results: Although M50 responses were observed equally often in older and younger subjects and equally often in TD and ASD, left and right M50 responses were delayed in ASD − LI and ASD + LI. Group comparisons showed that in younger subjects M100 responses were observed more often in TD than ASD + LI (90 versus 66%, p = 0.04), with no differences between TD and ASD − LI (90 versus 76%, p = 0.14) or between ASD − LI and ASD + LI (76 versus 66%, p = 0.53). In older subjects, whereas no differences were observed between TD and ASD + LI, responses were observed more often in ASD − LI than ASD + LI. Findings were similar when splitting the ASD group into lower- and higher-cognitive functioning groups.
Conclusion: Although present in all groups, M50 responses were delayed in ASD. Examining the TD data, findings indicated that by 11 years, a right M100 should be observed in 100% of subjects and a left M100 in 80% of subjects. Thus, by 11 years, lack of a left and especially right M100 offers neurobiological insight into sensory processing that may underlie language or cognitive impairment.