Autism Research: April 10, 2015 Week in Review

ResearchInfant brain activity helps predict language outcome in autism

A new study published this week in the journal Neuron talks about how the brain functions differently as regards language in toddlers with autism. The research led by Eric Courchesne of UC San Diego found that brain activity in autistic toddlers with poor language skills was different compared to activity in regions sensitive to language in typical peers as well as those with ASD but having typical language skills. Studying 43 typical and 60 ASD infants and toddlers, the neurobiologists used functional MRI scans to record brain activity the kids listened to stories. The superior temporal cortex failed to show typical activity in kids with poor language and communication with ASD.

Journal Reference: Lombardo et al. Different functional neural substrates for good and poor language outcome in autism. Neuron, April 2015 DOI: 10.1016/j.neuron.2015.03.023

Neural connections overdeveloped in autism, new study reveals

Another study from San Diego State University studied autism brains using functional MRI scans in children and found that the brain connections between the cerebellum and cerebral cortex were actually over-developed in the sensorimotor brain areas. This tends to engulf vital brain space that is necessary for other higher cognitive functions. The study led by Ralph Axel Muller and published in the journal Biological Psychiatry is the first of its kind to systematically study the neural connections of the entire brain using an fMRI. the researchers believe that this capture of the ‘brain real estate’ is probably leading to reduction in other skills like language, attention and decision making.

Journal Reference: Amanda J. Khan, Aarti Nair, Christopher L. Keown, Michael C. Datko, Alan J. Lincoln, Ralph-Axel Müller. Cerebro-cerebellar resting state functional connectivity in children and adolescents with autism spectrum disorder. Biological Psychiatry, 2015; DOI: 10.1016/j.biopsych.2015.03.024

Autism kids can ‘learn to be social’ new social network study finds

A new study from the University of Kansas, Life Span Institute was published this week in the Journal of Autism and Developmental Disorders. The researchers led by Debra Kamps found that speech therapists and teachers can teach social skills and improve communication in children on the spectrum. Using polite courtesies like please, sorry, thank you while playing games or with toys in the social peer network showed definitive progress in social skills as well as improved classroom behaviour.

Journal Reference: Debra Kamps, et al. A Comprehensive Peer Network Intervention to Improve Social Communication of Children with Autism Spectrum Disorders: A Randomized Trial in Kindergarten and First Grade. Journal of Autism and Developmental Disorders, 2014; DOI: 10.1007/s10803-014-2340-2

Paucity of pronouns points towards autism, professor says

University of Texas (Asutin) linguistics professor Richard Meier shed new light on the language conundrum faced by parents of kids with autism this week in his new study with co-author Aaron Shield and Helen FfLusberg of Boston University. The study published in the prestigious Journal of Autism and Developmental Disorders showed that children on the spectrum used pronouns like ‘you’ , ‘me’ etc. much lesser and preferred names instead while communicating. This study with further research could help parents detect autism faster in their children, paving way for earlier intervention and aggressive therapy. The study suggested a different sense of selfhood in the children, due to which they found it easier to use names instead of pronouns.

Journal Reference: Aaron Shield, Richard P. Meier, Helen Tager-Flusberg. The Use of Sign Language Pronouns by Native-Signing Children with Autism. Journal of Autism and Developmental Disorders, 2015; DOI: 10.1007/s10803-015-2377-x