Autism-Related Differences in Cortical Activation When Observing, Producing, and Imitating Communicative Gestures: An fNIRS Study

Children with autism spectrum disorder (ASD) have difficulties in gestural communication during social interactions. However, the neural mechanisms involved in naturalistic gestural communication remain poorly understood. In this study, cortical activation patterns associated with gestural communication were examined in thirty-two children with and without ASD (mean age: 11.0 years, SE: 0.6 years). Functional near-infrared spectroscopy (fNIRS) was used to record cortical activation while children produced, observed, or imitated communicative gestures. Children with ASD demonstrated more spatial and temporal errors when performing and imitating communicative gestures. Although both typically developing (TD) children and children with ASD showed left-lateralized cortical activation during gesture production, children with ASD showed hyperactivation in the middle/inferior frontal gyrus (MIFG) during observation and imitation, and hypoactivation in the middle/superior temporal gyrus (MSTG) during gesture production compared to their TD peers. More importantly, children with ASD exhibited greater MSTG activation during imitation than during gesture production, suggesting that imitation could be an effective intervention strategy to engage cortical regions crucial for processing and producing gestures. Our study provides valuable insights into the neural mechanisms underlying gestural communication difficulties in ASD, while also identifying potential neurobiomarkers that could serve as objective measures for evaluating intervention effectiveness in children with ASD.
This article was originally published in Brain Sciences. The version of record is available at: © 2023 by the authors. Licensee MDPI, Basel, Switzerland.
autism spectrum disorder, functional near-infrared spectroscopy, communicative gesture, gesture production, gesture processing, imitation
Su, Wan-Chun, McKenzie Culotta, Jessica Mueller, Daisuke Tsuzuki, and Anjana N. Bhat. 2023. "Autism-Related Differences in Cortical Activation When Observing, Producing, and Imitating Communicative Gestures: An fNIRS Study" Brain Sciences 13, no. 9: 1284.