Hidden ability in autism

We are a research group at the University of Cambridge, UK, who are interested in how autistic children understand spoken language. We would like to learn more about how their brains processes spoken words, using brain imaging technologies that are gentle and fast to set up. The aim of our research is to provide a chance for all autistic people, regardless of function, to demonstrate how well they understand word meanings. We hope to acheive this by creating suitable, reliable brain imaging measures that can be used as a marker of language processing in minimally-verbal autistic children.

Help us with our research 

We are not currently testing due to the COVID19 pandemic however we are still providing information to families who might be interested in participating in the future. If you are interested in learning more please provide us with your email and we will send you on an information pack about our study.  

If you answer yes to the following we would like to contact you.
  • We live in the UK, or in New South Wales (Australia) 

  •  My child is aged between 5 - 15 years old

  • My family speaks English as their first language 

  • My child is not deaf or blind

My child falls into one of the following groups

  • Has an autism spectrum diagnosis, and has limited or no spoken communication

  • Has an a utism spectrum diagnosis, and does have spoken language

  • Does not have autism or any other developmental condition 

Please note we are only testing in the UK and New South Wales (Australia) at the moment but hope to include people over 15 and other countries in the future. Anyone can submit this form for more information.

Learn what our research is about 

This video is of Dr Selene Petit talking about why we are conducting this research. The take home message is that while each autistic child will be different, some children may understand more than we think. We hope our research will result in new brain imaging methods that could detect such hidden language processing.

The science behind the research

Standard language assessments are ineffective in measuring language comprehension in non-verbal autism, a population that accounts for around 30% of autistic people. Levels of comprehension in non-verbal children is unknown as very little research is conducted on this population. The aim of our research is to use the well-established N400 effect that is seen as a reliable neural marker of language processing (Kutas and Federmeier, 2011). However, the reliability of this effect only holds true at the group level of analysis with a detection rates in single subject analysis revealing a detection rate of typically 50-60% in neuro-typicals (Cruse et al., 2014; Rohaut et al., 2015; Coderre et al., 2019). Much of the preparation for our research into non-verbal ASD has been exploring different ways in which we could improve the reliability of this ERP at the single subject level. 

Key Publication: Petit et al. 2020

Would you like to contact us regarding this research?  

Email: Dr Alyse Brown

MRC Cognition and Brain Sciences Unit
School of Clinical Medicine
University of Cambridge

© 2020 Woolgar Lab