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Poster E150

Changes in neural response variability in response to cognitive training and its relation to restricted repetitive behavior in children with autism

Poster Session E - Monday, April 15, 2024, 2:30 – 4:30 pm EDT, Sheraton Hall ABC

Zahra Raza1 (, Jin Liu1, Hyesang Chang1, Vinod Menon1; 1Stanford University

Abnormal neural variability has been recognized as a significant feature of atypical neural processing in autism. However, it remains unknown whether and how neural variability could change in response to cognitive training in children with autism spectrum disorder (ASD), compared to their typically developing (TD) peers. In this study, we investigate cognitive-training-induced changes in neural response variability in children with autism and examine their links to different aspects of restricted repetitive behaviors (RRBs) — insistence on sameness, circumscribed interest, and repetitive motor behavior. We employed an intensive one-on-one five-day training protocol designed to enhance math problem-solving abilities and acquired fMRI data from 19 children with ASD (4 females, age: 9.94 years, FSIQ: 119.43) and 25 TD children (7 females, age: 9.70 years, FSIQ: 118.64) before and after training. In the fMRI scanner, children solved math problems, where they verified whether the presented solution is the correct answer to the problem. Our analysis of trial-by-trial variability in neural responses revealed that children with ASD exhibited greater neural response variability across math problems following training than TD children in inferior parietal and visual and auditory areas. In addition, greater changes in neural response variability were associated with more severe symptoms of insistence on sameness, a sub-category of RRBs associated with cognition, in inferior parietal and superior frontal regions in children with ASD. These findings offer new insights into the interplay between training-induced changes in neural variability and restricted repetitive behaviors, providing evidence for atypical brain mechanisms underlying learning in children with ASD.

Topic Area: THINKING: Problem solving


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