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Exploring Communication Pathways in Nonverbal Individuals with Autism Spectrum Disorder: Speech and Print

To date, research in Autism Spectrum Disorder (ASD) has focused on individuals who are high functioning. Additionally, most of the research has been with infants and young children. In contrast, little is known about adult individuals on the spectrum who do not speak and may or may not have intellectual disabilities. These individuals pose a challenge to study due to compliance issues and difficulties with producing a reliable response. Additionally, they frequently present with co-morbid inattention, anxiety, aggression and sensory problems. Insofar as the ability to communicate is considered a positive prognostic indicator for individuals with ASD, Dr. Mody and colleagues focused their efforts on the neurobiology of communication deficits in nonverbal adults with ASD for a clearer understanding of the underlying disruptions for potential application in improved intervention. They took advantage of recent advances in neuroimaging using EEG, MEG, fMRI and DTI with passive paradigms, in the context of a novel combination of experiments targeting speech and print to assess the integrity of spoken and written communication pathways in the brain in nonverbal ASD. Specifically, nonverbal adults with ASD and age- and gender-matched neurotypical controls participated in three experiments in which investigators examined (a) oromotor representations for speech vs. non-speech; (b) access to meaning via print; (c) structural and functional intactness of speech and reading networks. Taken together, these experiments have the potential to reveal articulatory and orthographic mappings as related to speech-language deficits in nonverbal ASD.