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Increased Neural Response to Reward in Adolescents With ASD After PEERS Social Skills Intervention

  • Author(s): Baker, Elizabeth
  • Advisor(s): Stavropoulos, Katherine K.M.
  • et al.

The reward system has been implicated as a potential neural mechanism underlying social-communication deficits in individuals with autism spectrum disorder (ASD). However, it remains unclear whether the neural reward system in ASD is sensitive to behavioral interventions. The current study measured the reward positivity (RewP) in response to social and nonsocial stimuli in seven adolescents with ASD before and after participation in the Program for the Education and Enrichment of Relational Skills (PEERS) intervention. This study also included seven neurotypical adolescents who were tested at two timepoints but did not receive intervention. RewP mean amplitude was examined across the course of an electroencephalographic (EEG) task by comparing brain activity during the first versus second half of trials to understand patterns of responsivity over time. Improvements in social skills and decreased social-communication impairments for teens with ASD were observed after PEERS. Event-related potential (ERP) results suggested increased reward sensitivity during the first half of trials in the ASD group after intervention. Adolescents with ASD who exhibited less reward-related brain activity before intervention demonstrated the greatest behavioral benefits from the intervention. These findings have implications for how brain-based investigations can be used as an objective outcome measure before and after intervention in ASD.

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