Changing the brain: Here’s how social awareness can help autistic adults
A recent study has revealed that a clinician-driven virtual learning platform, tailored to young adults on the autism spectrum, shows improved social competency.
The University of Texas research showed that the increase in the socio-emotional and socio-cognitive abilities correlated with brain change. The results included increased activation in the brain’s socio-cognition hub with gains linked to improvement on an empathy measure.
The researchers were particularly intrigued by the significant relationships between behavioural and brain changes, as there was a lack of research in this area.
“Brain change is a big deal in adults with autism. Many people implicitly believe that brain changes are unlikely for adults with autism, which might affect how they interact with those adults. This study challenges that very notion and has profound implications in the way people would view, interact, and treat adults with autism,” said researcher Daniel Yang.
This study identified three significant brain-behaviour changes :
1) Theory of mind, or the ability to realize the intention of others, is often lacking in individuals with autism.
2) The brain area responsible for socio-emotional processing showed individual gains in emotion recognition with decreased activation to social versus non-social stimuli.
3) The part of the brain for visual attention showed significantly decreased activation to non-social versus social stimuli across all participants.
Young adults with high-functioning autism received the evidence-based behavioral intervention over five weeks for a total of ten hours. During the training session, the clinician and participants interacted entirely through virtual avatar characters and engaged in real-time.
The participants were given multiple opportunities within a session to practice these social skills and were tested pre- and post-training. The findings are published in the journal Autism Research.
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