Event-related potentials in autistic and healthy children on an auditory choice reaction time task
Introduction: Childhood autism can occur in 5 out of 10,000 of the population. The condition covers problems of sensory modulation, comprehension and communication as it relates to both objects and people. Of the stages of information processing recorded in auditory event-related potentials (ERPs), reductions of N1 and P3 amplitude have been reported in many situations, but an increased P3 response to non-targets may represent difficulties in attributing differentially significance to some but not all stimuli. Methods: Recordings were derived from midline and 4 lateral sites on the scalp of 7 children with autism and 7/13 healthy control children matched for age (median 139 vs. 135 months). A three-tone oddball paradigm was presented in a passive and active-task form (72% at 1 kHz, 14% at 0.5 kHz and 14% at 2.0 kHz). Results: a) Autistic subjects showed twice as many errors of omission and a higher beta criterion (signal detection) for targets. b) For autistic subjects N1 latencies were shorter and N1 amplitude larger to deviants (especially nontargets). c) However, subtraction of the ERPs in nontarget from target conditions showed that the processing negativity (PN) and especially the Negative difference (Nd) was smaller in autistic subjects. d) In contrast the P3 amplitude (especially after the target) was smaller in autistic subjects. e) Within autistic subjects the topography showed more early negativity after deviants at left frontal sites and more target induced late positivity at right parietal sites. Conclusions: The ERPs of autistic children were more responsive to stimulus features (high frequency or deviance) and less responsive to the stimulus associations (target features). The ERPs also provide conflicting signs of neurodevelopment, -- precocious in the right-hemispheric emphasis for P3, but delayed in that P3 was not maximal at parietal sites.