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Keywords:

  • autism spectrum disorders;
  • child;
  • near-infrared spectroscopy;
  • prefrontal cortex;
  • theory of mind

Aims

The purpose of this study was to examine the usefulness of near-infrared spectroscopy (NIRS) for identifying abnormalities in prefrontal brain activity in children with autism spectrum disorders (ASD) as they inferred the mental states of others.

Methods

The subjects were 16 children with ASD aged between 8 and 14 years and 16 age-matched healthy control children. Oxygenated hemoglobin concentration was measured in the subject's prefrontal brain region on NIRS during tasks expressing a person's mental state (MS task) and expressing an object's characteristics (OC task).

Results

There was a significant main effect of group (ASD vs control), with the control group having more activity than the ASD group. But there was no significant main effect of task (MS task vs OC task) or hemisphere (right vs left). Significant interactions of task and group were found, with the control group showing more activity than the ASD group during the MS task relative to the OC task.

Conclusions

NIRS showed that there was lower activity in the prefrontal brain area when children with ASD performed MS tasks. Therefore, clinicians might be able to use NIRS and these tasks for conveniently detecting brain dysfunction in children with ASD related to inferring mental states, in the clinical setting.