Some young people with autism spectrum disorder (ASD) have strong skills in reading out loud, but struggle to comprehend what they read. A new study finds it is possible to improve reading comprehension for children with ASD using an intensive reading intervention. The study, from the University of Alabama at Birmingham, demonstrated that certain language-specific brain areas became better connected after an intense reading intervention. The findings may help researchers assess future treatments for ASD.
Thirty-one children participated in the study: 16 received the reading intervention and 15 served as the control group. The reading intervention consisted of 4-hour sessions each day for 10 weeks. The children were coached to visualize what they read to understand the meaning of a text, focusing on imaging pictures when they read words for colors, shapes, and sizes. Before and after the intervention, the researchers used magnetic resonance imaging (MRI) to determine the children’s resting-state brain activity.
Children who participated in the reading intervention had improved scores on a reading comprehension test at the end of the study. The MRI scans revealed that several sets of brain regions became simultaneously active, which suggests they were communicating as connected networks. One of these networks included Broca’s area and Wenicke’s area, known for governing speech production and sentence comprehension, respectively. The children who received the intervention had stronger connectivity in this language-related brain network than the control group. They also had stronger connectivity in motor and visual networks.
The results of the study may help researchers evaluate treatments for autism. The present study demonstrated how an effective therapy looks in the brain. Researchers can use this information when developing and assessing new treatments.
This research is published in the journal Human Brain Mapping.
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