Video Game Environments for the Integrative Study of Perception, Attention and Social Cognition in Autism and Autism Sibs
Autism's social and communicative deficits are its most obvious and debilitating symptoms. Less appreciated are the lower-level, non-social symptoms, such as enhanced sensory perception, narrow and inflexible attention, and executive abnormalities such as difficulties in planning and goal-oriented behavior. Both higher-level and lower-level symptoms of autism may be explained by changes in neural connectivity in the brains of autistic individuals. Neurons communicate to each via both long-range and short-range neural connections. In this study, Dr. Belmonte and colleagues will test the hypothesis that the range of symptoms seen in autism can be explained by abnormally strong short-range connections within brain regions, and abnormally weak long-range connections between brain regions. These researchers hypothesize that social and communicative deficits seen in autism are due to weakening of the long-range connections between brain regions, which are necessary to coordinate the activities of these regions. This study will use EEG to measure brain activity in autistic children and their siblings, as well as a control group of normal children. Brain activity will be measured both within and between brain regions while the subjects play video games with embedded tests for both high-level and low-level functions, such as attention, executive function, perception, and social cognition. Computational analysis of the activity measured will allow researchers to determine the relative strength of neural connections in different subjects while performing different types of tasks. This research will evaluate a unified hypothesis of brain dysfunction in autism, which may lead to a better understanding of the neural pathways underlying the symptoms of autism.