Brain Function Differences in Language Processing in Children and Adults with Autism

Authors

  • Diane L. Williams,

    Corresponding author
    1. Center for Cognitive Brain Imaging, Department of Psychology, Carnegie Mellon University, Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania
    • Department of Speech Language Pathology, Duquesne University, Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania
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  • Vladimir L. Cherkassky,

    1. Center for Cognitive Brain Imaging, Department of Psychology, Carnegie Mellon University, Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania
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  • Robert A. Mason,

    1. Center for Cognitive Brain Imaging, Department of Psychology, Carnegie Mellon University, Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania
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  • Timothy A. Keller,

    1. Center for Cognitive Brain Imaging, Department of Psychology, Carnegie Mellon University, Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania
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  • Nancy J. Minshew,

    1. Departments of Psychiatry and Neurology, University of Pittsburgh School of Medicine, Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania
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  • Marcel Adam Just

    1. Center for Cognitive Brain Imaging, Department of Psychology, Carnegie Mellon University, Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania
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  • Grant Sponsor: National Institute of Child Health and Human Development.
  • Grant Numbers: Autism Center of Excellence HD055748; Collaborative Programs of Excellence in Autism U19HD35469
  • Grant Sponsor: National Institute of Deafness and Other Communication
  • Grant Number: K23 DC00669 [to DLW]

Address for correspondence and reprints: Diane L. Williams, Center for Cognitive Brain Imaging, Department of Psychology, Carnegie Mellon University, 5000 Forbes Avenue, Pittsburgh, PA 15213-3890. E-mail: diane72@andrew.cmu.edu

Abstract

Comparison of brain function between children and adults with autism provides an understanding of the effects of the disorder and associated maturational differences on language processing. Functional imaging (functional magnetic resonance imaging) was used to examine brain activation and cortical synchronization during the processing of literal and ironic texts in 15 children with autism, 14 children with typical development, 13 adults with autism, and 12 adult controls. Both the children and adults with autism had lower functional connectivity (synchronization of brain activity among activated areas) than their age and ability comparison group in the left hemisphere language network during irony processing, and neither autism group had an increase in functional connectivity in response to increased task demands. Activation differences for the literal and irony conditions occurred in key language-processing regions (left middle temporal, left pars triangularis, left pars opercularis, left medial frontal, and right middle temporal). The children and adults with autism differed from each other in the use of some brain regions during the irony task, with the adults with autism having activation levels similar to those of the control groups. Overall, the children and adults with autism differed from the adult and child controls in (a) the degree of network coordination, (b) the distribution of the workload among member nodes, and (3) the dynamic recruitment of regions in response to text content. Moreover, the differences between the two autism age groups may be indicative of positive changes in the neural function related to language processing associated with maturation and/or educational experience. Autism Res 2013, ●●: ●●–●●. © 2013 International Society for Autism Research, Wiley Periodicals, Inc.

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