All ETDs from UAB

Advisory Committee Chair

Rajesh K Kana

Advisory Committee Members

Fred J Biasini

Kristina M Visscher

Document Type

Thesis

Date of Award

2016

Degree Name by School

Master of Arts (MA) College of Arts and Sciences

Abstract

Deficits in language are a major clinical feature of autism spectrum disorders (ASD). Previous studies suggest that individuals with ASD may rely on visuospatial skills to compensate for these deficits. Existing intervention programs in autism have not been tested at the neural level, thus falling short of quantifiable neurobiological changes underlying behavioral improvement. The current study takes a translational neuroimaging approach to test the impact of a structured visual imagery-based reading intervention on improving reading comprehension and its underlying neural circuitry. Changes in connectivity of a set of brain regions commonly known as the “reading network” were examined in children with ASD who are good readers, but poor comprehenders. Behavioral and resting state functional MRI (rs-fMRI) data were collected from participants with ASD who were randomly assigned to an Experimental group (ASD-EXP; n = 15) and a Wait-list control group (ASD-WLC; n = 14). Both groups were scanned pre- and post-intervention, with the ASD-EXP receiving the intervention before their second scan and the ASD-WLC after their second scan. Participants went through an established reading intervention training program (Visualizing and Verbalizing for language comprehension and thinking or V/V; 4-hours per day, 10-weeks, 200 hours of face-to-face instruction) created by the Lindamood-Bell Learning Processes. For the resting state scans, the participants were asked to look at a fixation cross, rest and relax in the MRI scanner. Local functional connectivity was examined using graph theory. The main results are as follows: I) the ASD-EXP group showed significant improvement in their reading comprehension ability evidenced from comprehension scores; whereas, this effect was absent in the ASD-WLC group; II) the ASD-EXP group showed increased local brain connectivity in reading network regions compared to the ASD-WLC group post-intervention; III) intervention-related changes in local brain connectivity were observed in the ASD-EXP group in reading network regions; and IV) improvement in language comprehension significantly predicted changes in local connectivity in the reading network. The findings of this study will provide insights into understanding brain plasticity in children with developmental disorders using targeted intervention programs.

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