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Study: Behavioral therapy for children with autism can impact brain function

Using functional magnetic resonance imaging (fMRI) for before-and-after analysis, a team of researchers including a UC Santa Barbara graduate student discovered positive changes in brain activity in children with autism who received a particular type of behavioral therapy.
Work completed at Yale University's Child Study Center used fMRI as the tool for measuring the impact of Pivotal Response Treatment (PRT) –– therapy pioneered at UCSB by Lynn Koegel, clinical director of the Koegel Autism Center –– on both lower- and higher-functioning children with autism receiving PRT for the first time. fMRI allows researchers to see what areas of the brain are active while processing certain stimuli –– in this case human motion. Comparing pre- and post-therapy data from the fMRI scans of their 5-year-old subjects, the researchers saw marked –– and remarkable –– changes in how the children were processing the stimuli. Findings from their study, "Neural Mechanisms of Improvements in Social Motivation After Pivotal Response Treatment," are published in a recent issue of the Journal of Autism and Developmental Disorders.

"The cool thing that we found was that these kids showed increased activation in regions of the brain utilized by typically developing kids," explained Avery C. Voos, first-year graduate student at the UCSB-based Koegel Autism Center, and one of the lead authors of the Yale study. "After four months of treatment, they're starting to use brain regions that typically developing kids are using to process social stimuli.


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