The Impact of Singing on Visual and Multisensory Speech Perception in Children on the Autism Spectrum
Autistic children show reduced multisensory integration of audiovisual speech stimuli in response to the McGurk illusion. Previously, it has been shown that adults can integrate sung McGurk tokens. These sung speech tokens offer more salient visual and auditory cues, in comparison to the spoken tokens, which may increase the identification and integration of visual speech cues in autistic children. Forty participants (20 autism, 20 non-autistic peers) aged 7–14 completed the study. Participants were presented with speech tokens in four modalities: auditory-only, visual-only, congruent audiovisual, and incongruent audiovisual (i.e., McGurk; auditory ‘ba’ and visual ‘ga’). Tokens were also presented in two formats: spoken and sung. Participants indicated what they perceived via a four-button response box (i.e., ‘ba’, ‘ga’, ‘da’, or ‘tha’). Accuracies and perception of the McGurk illusion were calculated for each modality and format. Analysis of visual-only identification indicated a significant main effect of format, whereby participants were more accurate in sung versus spoken trials, but no significant main effect of group or interaction effect. Analysis of the McGurk trials indicated no significant main effect of format or group and no significant interaction effect. Sung speech tokens improved identification of visual speech cues, but did not boost the integration of visual cues with heard speech across groups. Additional work is needed to determine what properties of spoken speech contributed to the observed improvement in visual accuracy and to evaluate whether more prolonged exposure to sung speech may yield effects on multisensory integration.