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Autism and the brain's response to biological motion

Kristi Poppi - January 17th 2017

A recent study looked at brain responses to biological motion that may predict treatment outcome in young children with autism

child's eyes

Autism Spectrum Disorder (ASD) is considered a complex neurodevelopmental disorder and there are different types of treatment that target children’s social, communication and behavioral deficits. The complexity of the disorder makes it more difficult to identify which therapy works best for specific groups of children. Thus, a technique that is suitable for some children may not be effective for others.

Yang and his colleagues (2016) conducted a small study, which suggests that brain scans could help clinicians choose the most suitable treatment for a child with autism. More specifically, they found that patterns of activity in certain parts of the brain may predict how much a child’s autism features will improve after pivotal response treatment.

Yang et al (2016) explored the accuracy of functional magnetic resonance imaging biomarkers in predicting the treatment response in 20 children with autism aged 4 to 7 years. After initial baseline clinical measures and a pretreatment scan, the children received 7 hours of pivotal response treatment for 16 weeks. The treatment includes activities that interest a child in order to promote communication and various social skills. The authors identified activity in certain neural circuits, connected with the viewing of biological motion1, which correctly predicted the child’s response to treatment. These neural circuits were found in brain regions that support social information processing and social motivation, and may serve as robust predictive biomarkers for some forms of autism, generalizable to new participants.

As Professor Yang has mentioned, the findings of this research suggest that clinicians can one day use brain activity to identify children with autism who would benefit from a treatment. It should be taken into account though that the results are limited by the small sample size and the fact that all the children in the study were cognitively able. Nonetheless, the findings are of great interest and the study could be used as a stepping-stone for a larger RCT to further establish the findings.

D Yang et al (2016) Brain responses to biological motion predict treatment outcome in young children with autism. Translational Psychiatry (2016) 6, e948; doi:10.1038/tp.2016.213 Published online 15 November 2016

1 ‘Biological motion’ refers to the brain’s ability to connect together small perceptual cues to identify biological, including human, motion. A problem in identifying biological motion may be one factor in some forms of autism.


Comments
Sam Rodrigo commented on 12-Feb-2017 06:25 PM
Thank you - full of valuable infomation.

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Welcome to ourNews, where we keep up-to-date with research and other news related to infant mental health. These articles can be of interest to both parents and professionals.
We are keen to know your views and so please do comment on our articles.
Is there a topic that you would like us to write about? Just send us a message via 'Contact us'.

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