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Autistic Individuals can Be 'trained' to Comprehend Visual and Vocal Cues

A new study has revealed that individuals with autism spectrum disorders (ASDs) including autism, pervasive developmental disorder and Asperger's syndrome can be trained to understand the subtle meanings conveyed by a person's face and tone of voice.

UCLA researchers have shown that ASD children can be trained with explicit instructions to pay more attention to facial expressions and tone of voice elicited an increased response in the medial prefrontal cortex, part of the brain's network for understanding the intentions of others.

"That's significant. The fact that you can 'normalize' activity in this region in the ASD group by directing their attention to these important social cues clearly indicates there's nothing ntrinsically wrong with this region in the autistic brain," said Mirella Dapretto, associate professor of psychiatry and bio-behavioural sciences at the Semel Institute for Neuroscience and Human Behavior at UCLA and a member of the UCLA Ahmanson-Lovelace Brain Mapping Center.

Dapretto co-authored the study with her former graduate student Ting Wang, who is now a postdoctoral fellow at Mount Sinai School of Medicine.

"This is a very positive thing because these findings have implications for future interventions - they suggest that you could train the autistic brain to make use of the information conveyed by the human face and voice to successfully navigate social interactions," Dapretto added.

The authors wanted to examine the neural circuitry in the brain that underlies the problems ASD children face in interpreting communicative intent. They also wanted to determine whether explicit instructions to pay attention to facial expressions and tone of voice would elicit more normal patterns of brain activity in these children.

While undergoing functional magnetic resonance imaging (fMRI), 18 ASD boys
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