Nav: Home

Study finds way to predict treatment effectiveness for adults with autism

June 14, 2017

DALLAS, TEXAS, - A collaboration between the Center for BrainHealth at The University of Texas at Dallas and the George Washington University created a protocol to predict individual treatment effectiveness for adults on the autism spectrum. Using functional magnetic resonance imaging (fMRI), the researchers identified certain brain regions that significantly correlate with an increase in social abilities following a virtual environment based training program. Adults on the autism spectrum who showed greater activity in the social brain network prior to the training improved more in emotion recognition than those who showed less activity.

"We found that when participants showed more brain activation in certain regions within the social brain network, while viewing digitally represented biological motion - motion that symbolizes something a human might do, such as playing pat-a-cake - the intervention was more beneficial to the participants," explained Dr. Daniel Yang, assistant research professor at the George Washington University and Children's National Health System. "Whereas if these social brain network regions did not show much activation, we observed that the person may not benefit from the intervention at this particular time but, as the brain is constantly changing, could benefit in the future, for example, by increasing pretreatment activation in these regions."

The U.S. Interagency Autism Coordinating Committee (IACC) named Dr. Yang's finding utilizing this predictive method with pediatric populations in a separate study one of the top 20 advances in autism research of 2016.

"This study advances us one step closer toward the goal of targeted, personalized treatment for individuals with autism," said Dr. Yang. "We are very happy that this predictive method may be potentially able to help children, as well as adults on the spectrum, know which training might be worth their time and money based on their current brain function."

For the study, seventeen participants between the ages of 18 and 40 years diagnosed with autism spectrum disorder were recruited from the Center for BrainHealth and the Yale Child Study Center at Yale University where Dr. Yang worked at the study's inception. Participants completed a five-week training program that met twice a week for one hour. The clinician-led, strategy-based intervention allowed participants to role play social interactions in a virtual environment.

"The training focuses on three core social strategies: recognizing others, responding to others and self-assertion," explained Tandra Allen, head of virtual training programs at the Center for BrainHealth, who provided the trainings. "We use avatars to make the complex social situations such as dealing with confrontation, job interviews, or a blind date feel more approachable to practice while still drawing on the same emotions that a person would experience in the real world."

Before the 10 hours of training, participants underwent brain imaging. While in the fMRI scanner, the participant passively viewed a series of animations. Some of the images represented a human in motion, such as a person playing pat-a-cake, while other images were scrambled and did not represent something a human would do.

Two clusters of activity stood out as significantly correlating with training success. The first is an area on the left side of the brain responsible for language processing, specifically conflicts in meanings. The other resides on the right side of the brain and is responsible for processing non-verbal social-emotional cues, for example, being able to look at a person's facial expression and ascertain emotional states such as fear, anger or joy.

Treatment effectiveness was measured by behavioral changes in two distinct domains of social abilities: 1) emotional recognition, or the change in socio-emotional processing abilities and 2) theory of mind, or the change in socio-cognitive processing abilities.

"There is very limited intervention research for adults on the autism spectrum, so being able to help make a leap forward in creating individualized treatment programs for them is very important to the field," said Dr. Yang.
-end-
ABOUT THE CENTER FOR BRAINHEALTH

The Center for BrainHealth, part of The University of Texas at Dallas, is a research institute committed to enhancing, protecting and restoring brain health across the lifespan. Scientific exploration at the Center for BrainHealth is leading edge, improving lives today and translating groundbreaking discoveries into practical clinical application. By delivering science-based innovations that enhance how people think, work and live, the Center and its Brain Performance Institute™ are empowering people of all ages to unlock their brain potential. Major research areas include the use of functional and structural neuroimaging techniques to better understand the neurobiology supporting cognition and emotion in health and disease.

Center for BrainHealth

Related Autism Articles:

Brain protein mutation from child with autism causes autism-like behavioral change in mice
A de novo gene mutation that encodes a brain protein in a child with autism has been placed into the brains of mice.
Autism and theory of mind
Theory of mind, or the ability to represent other people's minds as distinct from one's own, can be difficult for people with autism.
Potential biomarker for autism
A study of young children with autism spectrum disorder published in JNeurosci reveals altered brain waves compared to typically developing children during a motor control task.
Autism and the smell of fear
Autism typically involves the inability to read social cues. We most often associate this with visual difficulty in interpreting facial expression, but new research at the Weizmann Institute of Science suggests that the sense of smell may also play a central role in autism.
Autism often associated with multiple new mutations
Most autism cases are in families with no previous history of the disorder.
More Autism News and Autism Current Events

Best Science Podcasts 2019

We have hand picked the best science podcasts for 2019. Sit back and enjoy new science podcasts updated daily from your favorite science news services and scientists.
Now Playing: TED Radio Hour

Rethinking Anger
Anger is universal and complex: it can be quiet, festering, justified, vengeful, and destructive. This hour, TED speakers explore the many sides of anger, why we need it, and who's allowed to feel it. Guests include psychologists Ryan Martin and Russell Kolts, writer Soraya Chemaly, former talk radio host Lisa Fritsch, and business professor Dan Moshavi.
Now Playing: Science for the People

#537 Science Journalism, Hold the Hype
Everyone's seen a piece of science getting over-exaggerated in the media. Most people would be quick to blame journalists and big media for getting in wrong. In many cases, you'd be right. But there's other sources of hype in science journalism. and one of them can be found in the humble, and little-known press release. We're talking with Chris Chambers about doing science about science journalism, and where the hype creeps in. Related links: The association between exaggeration in health related science news and academic press releases: retrospective observational study Claims of causality in health news: a randomised trial This...