Speech discrimination difficulties in high-functioning autism spectrum disorder are likely independent of auditory hypersensitivity

William A. Dunlop, Peter G. Enticott, Ramesh Rajan

Research output: Contribution to journalArticleResearchpeer-review

14 Citations (Scopus)


Autism Spectrum Disorder (ASD), characterized by impaired communication skills and repetitive behaviors, can also result in differences in sensory perception. Individuals with ASD often perform normally in simple auditory tasks but poorly compared to typically developed (TD) individuals on complex auditory tasks like discriminating speech from complex background noise. A common trait of individuals with ASD is hypersensitivity to auditory stimulation. No studies to our knowledge consider whether hypersensitivity to sounds is related to differences in speech-in-noise discrimination. We provide novel evidence that individuals with high-functioning ASD show poor performance compared to TD individuals in a speech-in-noise discrimination task with an attentionally demanding background noise, but not in a purely energetic noise. Further, we demonstrate in our small sample that speech-hypersensitivity does not appear to predict performance in the speech-in-noise task. The findings support the argument that an attentional deficit, rather than a perceptual deficit, affects the ability of individuals with ASD to discriminate speech from background noise. Finally, we piloted a novel questionnaire that measures difficulty hearing in noisy environments, and sensitivity to non-verbal and verbal sounds. Psychometric analysis using 128 TD participants provided novel evidence for a difference in sensitivity to non-verbal and verbal sounds, and these findings were reinforced by participants with ASD who also completed the questionnaire. The study was limited by a small and high-functioning sample of participants with ASD. Future work could test larger sample sizes and include lower-functioning ASD participants.

Original languageEnglish
Article number401
Number of pages11
JournalFrontiers in Human Neuroscience
Publication statusPublished - 9 Aug 2016


  • Auditory attention
  • Auditory behavior questionnaire
  • Auditory hypersensitivity
  • Autism spectrum disorder
  • Speech-in-noise discrimination

Cite this