Interesting Autism Study!

A new study has just been published on the relationship with Autism and the human voice! Here is the abstract:

Underconnectivity between voice-selective cortex and reward circuitry in children with autism.

Authors:

  1. Daniel A. Abramsa,1,
  2. Charles J. Lyncha,
  3. Katherine M. Chenga,
  4. Jennifer Phillipsa,
  5. Kaustubh Supekara,
  6. Srikanth Ryalia,
  7. Lucina Q. Uddina, and
  8. Vinod Menona,b,c,d,1

Abstract

Individuals with autism spectrum disorders (ASDs) often show insensitivity to the human voice, a deficit that is thought to play a key role in communication deficits in this population. The social motivation theory of ASD predicts that impaired function of reward and emotional systems impedes children with ASD from actively engaging with speech. Here we explore this theory by investigating distributed brain systems underlying human voice perception in children with ASD. Using resting-state functional MRI data acquired from 20 children with ASD and 19 age- and intelligence quotient-matched typically developing children, we examined intrinsic functional connectivity of voice-selective bilateral posterior superior temporal sulcus (pSTS). Children with ASD showed a striking pattern of underconnectivity between left-hemisphere pSTS and distributed nodes of the dopaminergic reward pathway, including bilateral ventral tegmental areas and nucleus accumbens, left-hemisphere insula, orbitofrontal cortex, and ventromedial prefrontal cortex. Children with ASD also showed underconnectivity between right-hemisphere pSTS, a region known for processing speech prosody, and the orbitofrontal cortex and amygdala, brain regions critical for emotion-related associative learning. The degree of underconnectivity between voice-selective cortex and reward pathways predicted symptom severity for communication deficits in children with ASD. Our results suggest that weak connectivity of voice-selective cortex and brain structures involved in reward and emotion may impair the ability of children with ASD to experience speech as a pleasurable stimulus, thereby impacting language and social skill development in this population. Our study provides support for the social motivation theory of ASD.

How interesting! The study results show that maybe children with ASD have such a difficult time with social cues and interaction because they can not detect the changes and emotions in the human voice! The brains of the children with ASD did not have as many connections between the areas processing prosody and emotions. Since many people often say that kids with ASD have atypical prosody…it makes me wonder if maybe they just can’t hear the changes in people’s voices when their emotions change. Hopefully more research comes out on this soon!

–Stephanie

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