Neural Responses to Novel and Existing Words in Children with Autism Spectrum and Developmental Language Disorder

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The formation of new phonological representations is key in establishing items in the mental lexicon. Phonological forms become stable with repetition, time and sleep. Atypicality in the establishment of new word forms is characteristic of children with developmental language disorder (DLD) and autism spectrum disorder (ASD), yet neural changes in response to novel word forms over time have not yet been directly compared in these groups. This study measured habituation of event-related-potentials (ERPs) to novel and known words within and between two sessions spaced 24 hours apart in typically developing (TD) children, and their peers with DLD or ASD. We hypothesised that modulation of the auditory N400 amplitude would mark real-time changes in lexical processing with habituation evident within and across sessions in the TD group, while the DLD group would show attenuated habituation within sessions, and the ASD group attenuated habituation between sessions. Twenty-one typically developing children, 19 children with ASD, and 16 children with DLD listened passively to known and novel words on two consecutive days, while ERPs were recorded using dry electrodes. Counter to our hypotheses, no habituation effect emerged within sessions. However, responses did habituate between sessions, with this effect being reduced in the DLD group, indicating less pre-activation of lexical representations in response to words encountered the previous day. No differences in change over time were observed between the TD and ASD groups. These data are in keeping with theories stressing the importance of sleep-related consolidation in word learning.
Original languageEnglish
Article number14
Number of pages14
JournalJournal of Cognition
Issue number1
Publication statusPublished - 27 Jan 2022

Bibliographical note

© 2022 The Author(s).


  • ERP
  • N400
  • phonology
  • ASD
  • DLD

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