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Autistic Kids Have Different Brain Activity during Play

A first of its-kind-study shows that brain activation patterns and stress levels in children with autism spectrum disorder (ASD) are significantly different as compared with typically developing children.

Researchers from Vanderbilt University examined social play exchanges on multiple levels, revealing associations among brain regions, behavior, and arousal in children with ASD.

Study results have been published in the journal Social Cognitive Affective Neuroscience.

“Play is a fundamental skill in childhood and an area in which children with autism often have difficulty,” said the study’s principal investigator, Blythe Corbett, Ph.D., associate professor of psychiatry.

“However, the psychobiological study of play in autism is seldom comprehensively investigated using multiple levels of analysis.”

Corbett and colleague Kale Edmiston studied children with ASD using an innovative study design in which participants played with a typically developing child on a playground and then played a social exchange game with either the same child or a computer partner during functional imaging.

To measure physiological arousal, salivary cortisol sampling was used before and after the playground protocol.

During a functional MRI (fMRI) scan, participants played a game in which they were asked to cooperate or to compete with a co-player.

For half of the game, participants were told they were playing with a child they had just met on the playground. For the other half of the game, children were told they were playing with a computer.

However, the children were actually playing with a computer the entire time.

“When participants with ASD were in the MRI scanner and thought they were playing with the child they had just met, their brain activation patterns did not differ from when they thought they were playing with a computer,” said Edmiston.

“In contrast, typically developing children showed unique activation patterns based on which partner they were playing. This suggests that social agents might not be processed in the brains of people with ASD differently than nonsocial agents.”

Corbett said the findings suggest that “some children with autism not only find social engagement with peers less motivating, but it may be stressful, even aversive.”

Source: Vanderbilt University/EurekAlert

Autistic Kids Have Different Brain Activity during Play

Rick Nauert PhD

Rick Nauert, PhDDr. Rick Nauert has over 25 years experience in clinical, administrative and academic healthcare. He is currently an associate professor for Rocky Mountain University of Health Professionals doctoral program in health promotion and wellness. Dr. Nauert began his career as a clinical physical therapist and served as a regional manager for a publicly traded multidisciplinary rehabilitation agency for 12 years. He has masters degrees in health-fitness management and healthcare administration and a doctoral degree from The University of Texas at Austin focused on health care informatics, health administration, health education and health policy. His research efforts included the area of telehealth with a specialty in disease management.

APA Reference
Nauert PhD, R. (2015). Autistic Kids Have Different Brain Activity during Play. Psych Central. Retrieved on October 15, 2018, from https://psychcentral.com/news/2015/01/27/autistic-kids-have-different-brain-activity-during-play/80458.html

 

Scientifically Reviewed
Last updated: 6 Oct 2015
Last reviewed: By John M. Grohol, Psy.D. on 6 Oct 2015
Published on PsychCentral.com. All rights reserved.