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Neural Processing and Production of Gesture in Children and Adolescents With Autism Spectrum Disorder.

  • Author(s): Fourie, Emily
  • Palser, Eleanor R
  • Pokorny, Jennifer J
  • Neff, Michael
  • Rivera, Susan M
  • et al.

Individuals with autism spectrum disorder (ASD) demonstrate impairments in non-verbal communication, including gesturing and imitation deficits. Reduced sensitivity to biological motion (BM) in ASD may impair processing of dynamic social cues like gestures, which in turn may impede encoding and subsequent performance of these actions. Using both an fMRI task involving observation of action gestures and a charade style paradigm assessing gesture performance, this study examined the brain-behavior relationships between neural activity during gesture processing, gesturing abilities and social symptomology in a group of children and adolescents with and without ASD. Compared to typically developing (TD) controls, participants with ASD showed atypical sensitivity to movement in right posterior superior temporal sulcus (pSTS), a region implicated in action processing, and had poorer overall gesture performance with specific deficits in hand posture. The TD group showed associations between neural activity, gesture performance and social skills, that were weak or non-significant in the ASD group. These findings suggest that those with ASD demonstrate abnormalities in both processing and production of gestures and may reflect dysfunction in the mechanism underlying perception-action coupling resulting in atypical development of social and communicative skills.

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