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Age, not Autism, Influences Multisensory Integration of Speech Stimuli among Adults
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  • Robert M. Jertberg III,
  • Sander Begeer,
  • Hilde Geurts,
  • Bhismadev Chakrabarti,
  • Erik van der Burg
Robert M. Jertberg III
Vrije Universiteit Amsterdam
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Sander Begeer
Vrije Universiteit Amsterdam
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Hilde Geurts
University of Amsterdam
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Bhismadev Chakrabarti
University of Reading
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Erik van der Burg
University of Amsterdam

Corresponding Author:[email protected]

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Differences between autistic and non-autistic individuals in perception of the temporal relationships between sights and sounds are theorized to underlie difficulties in integrating relevant sensory information. These, in turn, are thought to contribute to problems with speech perception and higher level social behaviors. However, the literature establishing this connection often involves limited sample sizes and focuses almost entirely on children. To determine whether these differences persist into adulthood, we compared 469 autistic and 373 non-autistic adults (aged 17 to 75 years). Participants completed an online version of the McGurk/MacDonald paradigm, a multisensory illusion indicative of the ability to integrate audiovisual speech stimuli. Audiovisual asynchrony was manipulated, and participants responded both to the syllable they perceived (revealing their susceptibility to the illusion) and to whether or not the audio and video were synchronized (allowing insight into temporal processing). In contrast with prior research with smaller, younger samples, we detected no evidence of impaired temporal or multisensory processing in autistic adults. Instead, we found that in both groups, multisensory integration correlated strongly with age. This contradicts prior presumptions that differences in multisensory perception persist and even increase in magnitude over the lifespan of autistic individuals. It also suggests that the compensatory role multisensory integration may play as the individual senses decline with age is intact. These findings challenge existing theories and provide an optimistic perspective on autistic development. They also underline the importance of expanding autism research to better reflect the age range of the autistic population.
17 Nov 2023Submitted to European Journal of Neuroscience
20 Nov 2023Assigned to Editor
20 Nov 2023Submission Checks Completed
20 Nov 2023Review(s) Completed, Editorial Evaluation Pending
20 Nov 2023Reviewer(s) Assigned