"There's a social deficit in autism, so any improvement toward social interaction really helps with development. That's what makes this very exciting," says Avery C. Voos, a graduate student at UC Santa Barbara.
The team used functional magnetic resonance imaging (fMRI) to measure the effect of Pivotal Response Treatment (PRT) on both lower- and higher-functioning children with autism receiving the therapy for the first time.
The brain images allows researchers to see what areas 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 report seeing marked—and remarkable—changes in how the children were processing the stimuli.
“The cool thing that we found was that these kids showed increased activation in regions of the brain utilized by typically developing kids,” says Avery C. Voos, first-year graduate student at the Koegel Autism Center at the University of California, Santa Barbara. Voos co-led the study published in the Journal of Autism and Developmental Disorders.