There are two developmental disorders in which communication skills are a major area of difficulty: autistic disorder, and specific language impairment (SLI). In autistic disorder, communication difficulties encompass both verbal and nonverbal aspects, and are associated with problems in socialisation and behavioural repertoire. SLI is a more selective disorder, in which the child develops along normal lines, except in the area of verbal language, where skills lag behind those of other children of the same age. Although Autism and SLI are typically regarded as separate disorders, recent investigations have found that some children with Autism show similar language characteristics to those with SLI. Whether these similarities represent a subgroup of children with Autism who share a core heritable language deficit with SLI, or whether this is merely a superficial, behavioural similarity with a different underlying cause, remains unclear. Determining the exact relationship between SLI and Autism has important implications for describing the apos; Autism and apos; phenotype as well as the possibility of determining successful communication-intervention techniques.
The proposed study will use electrophysiological and behavioural methods to investigate this more closely, using methods already piloted in our lab with children with SLI. Brain event-related potentials will be measured by recording electrical activity at the scalp as the child listens to verbal and nonverbal sounds. This allows us to track the time course of the brain and apos;s response to different kinds of sounds, and to obtain brain indices of auditory short-term memory. In addition, a variety of behavioural tests that assess a wide range of verbal domains will be administered. These data will then be compared to existing results from typically developing children and those with SLI.
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