Reading enhances brain activity in autistic kids


Reading enhances brain activity in autistic kids

Photo: Dragonimages | Dreamstime.com

Children suffering from autism spectrum disorder (ASD) could benefit from intensive reading intervention. It was found that ten weeks of reading intervention helped autistic children to better comprehend reading. The research, carried out by the University of Alabama at Birmingham, studied 13 children with the average age of 10.9 years.

The results imply that reading built up the activity of loosely connected areas of the brain that function collectively to comprehend reading. It was also found that reading comprehension was also enhanced.

“This study is the first to do reading intervention with ASD children using brain imaging techniques, and the findings reflect the plasticity of the brain. Some parents think, if their child is 8 or 10 years old when diagnosed, the game is lost. What I stress constantly is the importance of intervention, and the magic of intervention, on the brain in general and brain connectivity in particular,” said Rajesh Kana, associate professor of psychology in the UAB College of Arts and Sciences.

The reading intervention consisted of a total of 200 hours of in-person interaction. This was broken up into four-hour sessions, five days a week. When compared to other children, children who have ASD have limited connectivity between certain areas in the reading network of their brains. The kids who underwent the intensive reading intervention, however, were found to get better with their reading comprehension. This is said to be because their brain function was modulated with the intervention. “The ASD brain processing after intervention looks richer, with visual, semantic and motor coding that is reflected by more active visual activity and involvement of the motor areas,” Kana said.

In comparison, control groups of children who did not receive the treatment, both children with ASD and those who were not affected by it, did not display any noteworthy differences after 10 weeks in brain connectivity or reading comprehension.

The intervention encouraged kids to form concept images as they read and heard language. This is supposed to help improve the imagery-language association in the brain. It is also said to help oral and reading comprehension and promote vocabulary. The enhanced connectivity was associated with improved scores on a reading comprehension exam.

Kana said, “People with autism are relatively better at visual/spatial processing. The intervention facilitates the use of such strengths to ultimately improve language comprehension.”

Not every child with autism faces difficulty in reading comprehension. Still, these findings are helpful in highlighting the usefulness of brain imaging for analyzing the effects of autism treatments, says Lucina Uddin, assistant professor of psychology at the University of Miami, who was not involved in the study. Lucina Uddin, assistant professor of psychology at the University of Miami, states, “Knowing what effective therapy looks like in the brain may help clinicians predict how individuals respond. This is a great model for the kind of work that needs to be done in the field in general.”

Previous research scrutinized the effects of early intervention in children diagnosed with autism. According to a recent study, if a child is diagnosed early enough that is, within 18 months of their birth and receives intervention, they can actually invalidate some of the symptoms associated with ASD. Children who received intervention during the first year of life had fewer language delays and developmental impairments, the study found.

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