Evaluating Behavioral and Neural Effects of Social Skills Intervention for School-Age children with ASD
Wang, A. Ting
Icahn School of Medicine at Mount Sinai
Basic & Clinical
There are very few controlled studies of treatments that specifically target social skills. Neuroimaging studies have found that individuals with ASD show abnormally low brain activity in regions important for social processing. However, there is also evidence that activity in key brain regions can be increased significantly by providing high-functioning children with specific instructions to pay attention to important social cues, such as a speaker's facial expression or tone of voice. This suggests that interventions that use a cognitive behavioral approach to teaching social skills may be effective not only in increasing social responsiveness in terms of behavior, but also perhaps in facilitating “rewiring” that results in increased activation of normal brain circuitry. This project is testing the efficacy of a cognitive behavioral social skills intervention in a sample of high-functioning children with ASD. Participants are randomly assigned to the cognitive behavioral training or a social play control group. The investigators will use standardized assessments and functional magnetic resonance imaging (fMRI) to examine: 1) behavioral changes in social cognition and responsiveness 2) changes in the neural circuitry supporting social cognition, and 3) the relationship between changes in neural circuitry and social functioning at the behavioral level. What this means for people with autism: Social dysfunction is the most defining feature of autism spectrum disorders (ASD), and perhaps also the most debilitating. Improvement in social functioning is widely considered to be a crucial target for intervention.