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Exploring Functional Brain Connectivity for Visual Cognition in Autism Spectrum Disorder

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United States

An essential characteristic of Autism Spectrum Disorder (ASD) is impaired social behavior, such as difficulties in processing emotional and non-verbal social signals in faces. This deficit in face processing may be caused by abnormal social communication or it may reflect a more basic problem in face perception and recognition. Recent reports suggest that children with ASD are more likely to emphasize individual features of faces (e.g. eyes, nose, mouth) more than the overall configuration of the face. Individuals with ASD also exhibit different brain activation patterns than do non-ASD individuals for face processing and other cognitive tasks. Recent preliminary data from Dr. Joseph's laboratory suggest that normally developing (ND) children have fewer connections among brain regions for face processing compared to adults. Consequently, this “underconnectivity” pattern may reflect an immature, but normally developing brain network, or a reflection of atypical development. The goal of this study is to compare functional brain connectivity patterns for face and object processing in children with ASD and ND children using functional magnetic resonance imaging (fMRI) technology. This study will explore whether underconnectivity patterns reflect a general property of the functional brain organization of ASD, or whether connectivity patterns depend on the specific type of processing (e.g., face vs. object recognition; or local vs configural processing). In addition, this study will characterize functional brain organization for face processing in typical development. What this means for people with autism: The need to understand the normal developmental course of face processing is essential in guiding the interpretation of brain organization for face processing and our attempts to improve it and overall social recognition in ASD.