Disrupted intrinsic connectivity links to language and social deficits in toddlers with autism
Social and language abilities are closely intertwined during early development. Yet, it is still unknown how neural features underlying early social and language deficits are linked in toddlers with autism spectrum disorders (ASD). We examined functional connectivity of left and right temporal language regions and its correlations with language and social abilities in a cohort of 1-4 years old toddlers (52 ASD/34 non-ASD). Further, ASD toddlers were stratified into those who strongly prefer social visual stimuli (ASDSoc) vs. those who do not (ASDnonSoc) based on performance on an eye-tracking paradigm. In non-ASD toddlers, connectivity between temporal regions and other language- and social-related cortical regions was significantly correlated with language, communication, and social scores. Conversely, ASD toddlers showed atypical correlations between temporal-visual cortex (cuneus) connectivity and communication ability. This temporal-visual connectivity was also correlated with social visual attention in ASDnonSoc but not in ASDSoc toddlers. These findings suggest language- and social-related functional connectivity was not correlated with language and social functions in ASD toddlers. Abnormal engagement of temporal-visual cortex connectivity may be an early-age signature of ASD and may help explain why interventions targeting social skills and language are so challenging, particularly in those with poor social engagement.
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