Children with autism spectrum disorders (ASD) often show changes in (automatic) auditory processing. Electrophysiology provides a method to study auditory processing, by investigating event-related potentials such as mismatch negativity (MMN) and P3a-amplitude. However, findings on MMN in autism are highly inconsistent, partly due to small sample sizes in the studies and differences in MMN paradigms. Therefore, in the current study, MMN and P3a amplitude were assessed in a relatively large sample of children with ASD, using a more extensive MMN paradigm and compared with that of typically developing children (TDC). Thirty-five children (aged 8-12 years) with ASD and 38 age and gender matched TDC were assessed with a MMN paradigm with three types of deviants, i.e., frequency, duration and a combination of these two. MMN elicited by duration and frequency-duration deviants was significantly reduced in the ASD group. P3a-amplitude elicited by duration deviants was significantly increased in the ASD group. Reduced MMN in children with ASD suggests that children with ASD may be less responsive to environmentally deviant stimuli at an early (sensory) level. P3a-amplitude was increased in ASD, implying a hyper-responsivity at the attentional level. In addition, as similar MMN deficits are found in schizophrenia, these MMN results may explain some of the frequently reported increased risk of children with ASD to develop schizophrenia later in life. Autism Res 2017, 10: 1857-1865. © 2017 International Society for Autism Research, Wiley Periodicals, Inc.
LAY SUMMARY: Automatic detection of deviant sounds in the environment, such as upcoming traffic, is often affected in children with autism spectrum disorders (ASD). Mismatch negativity (MMN) is a way to quantify automatic deviancy detection, using electroencephalography. In this study, auditory MMN was assessed in 35 children with ASD and 38 matched control children, revealing significantly reduced MMN in the ASD group. This may indicate that children with ASD are less able to automatically detect environmentally deviant stimuli.