Affective speech, including motherese, captures an infant’s attention and enhances social, language and emotional development. Decreased behavioural response to affective speech and reduced caregiver–child interactions are early signs of autism in infants. To understand this, we measured neural responses to mild affect speech, moderate affect speech and motherese using natural sleep functional magnetic resonance imaging and behavioural preference for motherese using eye tracking in typically developing toddlers and those with autism. By combining diverse neural–clinical data using similarity network fusion, we discovered four distinct clusters of toddlers. The autism cluster with the weakest superior temporal responses to affective speech and very poor social and language abilities had reduced behavioural preference for motherese, while the typically developing cluster with the strongest superior temporal response to affective speech showed the opposite effect. We conclude that significantly reduced behavioural preference for motherese in autism is related to impaired development of temporal cortical systems that normally respond to parental affective speech.
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The tidy data used in this study are publicly available at https://github.com/Yaqiongxiao/asdmotherese_fmriSNF.
Completed R code for implementing all analyses reported in this article is available at https://github.com/Yaqiongxiao/asdmotherese_fmriSNF.
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We thank the parents and children in San Diego who participated in our research, without whom this would not be possible. We are also fortunate to work with wonderful paediatricians and family practice physicians spanning a range of medical groups including UCSD, Sharp Rees-Stealy, Scripps, Rady-Children’s Primary Care Medical Group, Chula Vista Pediatrics, Graybill Medical Group, Grossmont Pediatrics, Linda Vista Health Care Center, Mills Pediatrics, North County Health Services, San Diego Family Care and Sea Breeze Pediatrics. We are grateful for their support. This work was supported by NIDCD grant 1R01DC016385 awarded to E.C. and K.P.; NIMH grants R01MH118879 and R01MH104446 awarded to K.P.; and 755816 European Research Council awarded to M.V.L. and E.C.. The funders had no role in study design, data collection and analysis, decision to publish or preparation of the manuscript.
The authors declare no competing interests.
Peer review information Nature Human Behaviour thanks Laura Edwards and Giorgia Silani for their contribution to the peer review of this work. Peer reviewer reports are available.
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Xiao, Y., Wen, T.H., Kupis, L. et al. Neural responses to affective speech, including motherese, map onto clinical and social eye tracking profiles in toddlers with ASD. Nat Hum Behav 6, 443–454 (2022). https://doi.org/10.1038/s41562-021-01237-y
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