Brain News – A new study recently explored how children with autism engage when parents are talking to them. They used motherese, a way of communicating with children, to better understand how social attention and social preference functioned in toddlers with ASD.
A new study links social and language skills in children with autism to under-developed regions of the brain. The research was conducted at the University of California, San Diego.
The researchers measured neural responses to motherese and other parent-affective speech in toddlers with either typical development or autism spectrum disorder (ASD). They combined brain imaging, eye-tracking, and clinical testing to examine how responses in the temporal cortical neural systems make children respond to motherese.
Motherese or infant-directed speech is a simplified and short sing-song speech that parents use to communicate with children. It fosters emotional bonding and learning experiences.
The researchers examined 71 toddlers and 14 adults across 241 datasets. They used functional magnetic resonance imaging (fMRI) of sleeping toddlers to measure brain activity to motherese and other parent-affective speech. They also used eye-tracking technology to measure responses to human-spoken motherese against non-speech computer sounds and images. Then, they conducted clinical assessments of social and language development.
Lastly, eye-gaze patterns were correlated to neural and behavioral responses by computerized methods to confirm the findings.
The findings, published in Nature Human Behaviour, revealed how the superior temporal cortex in the brain affected children with autism. The negative consequences usually manifested in their social attention-abilities, social preference, and emotional development.
According to the results, children with atypical development showed the strongest superior temporal neural responses to affective speech. In contrast, children with autism displayed the weakest superior temporal responses to the same. This group had the lowest eye-tracking attention to motherese and the poorest social abilities.
However, eye-tracking also revealed that a few toddlers with ASD showed strong brain activation and interest in motherese.
The researchers are enthusiastic that this study can provide new insights into the early identification of ASD and the various ways in which it affects children. Such research can help develop diagnostic tools and other treatment methods for children with autism.
One of the lead authors, Eric Courchesne, said, “This new study opens the door toward precision medicine in autism.”
To Know More You May Refer To
Xiao, Y., Wen, T.H., Kupis, L. et al. Neural responses to affective speech, including motherese, map onto clinical and social eye tracking profiles in toddlers with ASD. Nat Hum Behav (2022). https://doi.org/10.1038/s41562-021-01237-y