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New CMU brain imaging research reveals why autistic individuals confuse pronouns
Date:8/1/2011

etween the right anterior insula and precuneus when answering a question that contained the pronoun "you," querying something about the participant's view.

"Shifting from one pronoun to another, depending on who the speaker is, constitutes a challenge not just for children with autism but also for adults with high-functioning autism, particularly when referring to one's self," Just said. "The functional collaboration of two brain areas may play a critical role for perspective shifting by supporting an attention shift between oneself and others.

"Pronoun reversals also characterize an atypical understanding of the social world in autism. The ability to flexibly shift viewpoints is vital to social communication, so the autistic impairment affects not just language but social communication," Just added.

Autism was documented for the first time in 1943, in a landmark article by Dr. Leo Kanner of Johns Hopkins University. In that first article, Kanner noted the puzzling misuse of pronouns by children with the disorder. "When he [the child] wanted his mother to pull his shoe off, he said: 'Pull off your shoe.'" Kanner added that, "Personal pronouns are repeated [by the child with autism] just as heard, with no change to suit the altered situation." Because his mother referred to him as "you," so did the child.

Just's previous brain imaging research in autism has shown that other facets of thinking that are disrupted in autism, such as social difficulties and language impairments, also may be attributed to a reduced communication bandwidth between the frontal and posterior parts of the brain. He refers to this as the "Theory of Frontal-Posterior Underconnectivity." In each of these types of thinking, the processing is done by a set of different brain regions that includes key frontal regions, and the lower frontal-posterior bandwidth limits how well the frontal regions can contribute to the brain's networked computations.

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Contact: Shilo Raube
sraube@andrew.cmu.edu
412-268-6094
Carnegie Mellon University
Source:Eurekalert

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