Cortical Activation Patterns during a Joint Cooperation Task in Children with and without Autism Spectrum Disorder (ASD)

Poster Presentation
Thursday, May 2, 2019: 5:30 PM-7:00 PM
Room: 710 (Palais des congres de Montreal)
M. Culotta1, W. C. Su1, D. Tsuzuki2 and A. Bhat3, (1)Physical Therapy, University of Delaware, Newark, DE, (2)Department of Computer Science, Tokyo Metropolitan University, Tokyo, Japan, (3)Department of Physical Therapy, University of Delaware, Newark, DE

Children with ASD present with social impairments and comorbidities in sensori-motor control that impairs their ability to adjust their actions to that of others (Bhat et al., 2011). We aimed to examine the underlying cortical mechanisms important for social cooperation, specifically, mirror neuron system (MNS) and sensori-motor activation in the frontal, temporal and parietal cortices as well as executive functions in the prefrontal cortices during a naturalistic social cooperation game of Lincoln logs using functional near-infrared spectroscopy (fNIRS), a cutting-edge neuroimaging tool that allows for study of cortical activity during naturalistic social interactions and turn-taking between people.


To compare social cooperation behaviors and associated prefrontal, frontal, temporal, and parietal cortex activation between children with and without ASD.


Fifteen children with ASD and 17 typically developing (TD) children without ASD between ages 6 and 17 years wore an fNIRS cap embedded with a 3x11 probe set covering bilateral middle frontal gyrus (MFG), pre/post-central gyri (PSG), inferior frontal gyrus (IFG), superior temporal sulcus (STS), and inferior parietal lobule (IPL). Both, children and adults sat across a table to complete the building game involving four randomized blocks/conditions: a) Coincide (C): each partner builds their own structure, b) Lead (L): child leads the building and adult partner follows as they build own structures, c) Follow (F): child follows the adult partner in building as they build own structures, and d) Turn-take (T): child and partner alternate turns to build a common structure. The average oxy-hemoglobin response was analyzed to study differences between groups, tasks, hemispheres, and regions.


Our results are based on a smaller dataset (n=10 per group). Results from the entire dataset will be presented at the conference. In general, the children with ASD had lower cortical activation across multiple building conditions compared to the TD children without ASD across bilateral prefrontal, frontal, superior temporal, and left inferior parietal cortices. However, children with ASD had greater right inferior parietal cortex activation compared to the TD children without ASD. In terms of hemispheric differences, in the TD group, all conditions led to greater left hemispheric activation in the MNS regions except in the joint condition there was more bilateral activation. However, the ASD group showed no hemispheric lateralization or had greater right lateralization in the MNS regions.


Children with ASD displayed errors during social cooperation as well as lower cortical activation across bilateral prefrontal, frontal, superior temporal, and left inferior parietal cortices compared to age-matched TD peers. There was differential activation across varying contexts with the TD group showing left lateralization in the MNS ROIs for all conditions except the Joint condition. Interestingly, the ASD group rarely showed left lateralization and often showed more right lateralization for the majority of the conditions. During social cooperation, children with ASD showed clear differences in processing of sensori-motor and social information compared to TD peers. Each of the aformentioned contexts affords a different challenge and should be used as therapeutic contexts to facilitate cooperation between children with ASD and their peers.

See more of: Neuroimaging
See more of: Neuroimaging