How Is fNIRS-Based Cortical Activation Different in Children with Autism Spectrum Disorder (ASD) Compared to Those without ASD during Synchronized Postural Sway.

Poster Presentation
Thursday, May 2, 2019: 5:30 PM-7:00 PM
Room: 710 (Palais des congres de Montreal)
W. C. Su1, M. Culotta1, 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

Apart from diagnostic impairments, children with Autism Spectrum Disorder (ASD) present with fundamental motor impairments in motor coordination and balance as well as difficulties with socially-embedded motor skills such as imitation/interpersonal synchrony. These motor impairments may contribute to the fundamental social impairments of children with ASD. Using functional near-infrared spectroscopy (fNIRS), we have reported reduced Mirror Neuron System (MNS) activation in the Inferior Frontal Gyrus (IFG) and Superior Temporal Sulcus (STS) and greater activity in the Inferior Parietal Lobule (IPL) in children with ASD compared to TD peers during a reaching synchrony task. However, the reaching task was limited to arm use and did not involve whole body movements. In the present study, we extend our research to studying cortical activation during synchronized postural sway.


We compared cortical activation and connectivity between prefrontal, frontal, parietal, and temporal cortices between children with and without ASD during synchronized postural sway.


Fifteen children with ASD and 18 TD children between 6 to 17 years of age and fifteen TD adults participated. Each participant wore a cap embedded with a 3x11 fNIRS probe set that covered multiple cortical regions including bilateral middle frontal gyrus (MFG), inferior frontal gyrus (IFG), pre- and postcentral gyrus (PSG), superior temporal sulcus (STS), and inferior parietal lobe (IPL). The participants were asked to stand face to face with an adult social partner or to face a computer screen to complete four conditions: a) Watch: the participants stood still and watched the social partner swayed; b) Do: the participants swayed with a bar showed on a computer screen, c) Face: the participants swayed face to face with an adult social partner, and d) Touch: the participants swayed face to face with an adult social partner and with their fingertips touching. The oxy-hemoglobin response of the fNIRS signal was analyzed.


In the TD children and adults, greater activation was found in conditions requiring action execution (Solo, Face, and Touch) compared to the Watch condition. In the left hemisphere, greater activation was found during the Touch compared to the Solo and Face conditions whereas in the right hemisphere greater activation was found in the Solo compared to the Touch and Face conditions. Lastly, while IFG and STS regions were highly active across all conditions, the PSG region showed increased activation during the Solo condition only. We also expect reduced cortical activation in the children with ASD across multiple cortical regions including MNS regions such as IFG and STS compared to those without ASD.


Our preliminary results show that left MNS regions are important for whole body movement synchrony with social partners. In addition, the primary sensori-motor cortices played a greater role during non-biological, whole body movement synchrony. We also expect more sway errors and reduced cortical activation in children with ASD as they engage in synchronized postural sway compared to controls. In the future, we will utilize these shared social and motor neurobiomarkers to develop socially-embedded motor interventions that target the neural impairments of children with ASD.

See more of: Neuroimaging
See more of: Neuroimaging