Neural Processing of Dynamic Animated Social Interactions in Young Children With Autism Spectrum Disorder: A High-Density Electroencephalography Study
Jan, Reem K.
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Background: Atypical neural processing of social visual information contributes to impaired social cognition in autism spectrum disorder. However, evidence for early developmental alterations in neural processing of social contingencies is scarce. Most studies in the literature have been conducted in older children and adults. Here, we aimed to investigate alterations in neural processing of social visual information in children with autism spectrum disorder compared to age-matched typically developing peers. Methods: We used a combination of 129-channel electroencephalography and high-resolution eye-tracking to study differences in the neural processing of dynamic cartoons containing human-like social interactions between 14 male children with autism spectrum disorder and 14 typically developing male children, aged 2–5 years. Using a microstate approach, we identified four prototypical maps in both groups and compared the temporal characteristics and inverse solutions (activation of neural sources) of these maps between groups. Results: Inverse solutions of the group maps that were most dominant during free viewing of the dynamic cartoons indicated decreased prefrontal and cingulate activation, impaired activation of the premotor cortex, and increased activation of parietal, temporal, occipital, and cerebellar regions in children with autism spectrum disorder compared to their typically developing peers. Conclusions: Our findings suggest that impairments in brain regions involved in processing social contingencies embedded in dynamic cartoons are present from an early age in autism spectrum disorder. To the best of our knowledge, this is the first study to investigate neural processing of social interactions of children with autism spectrum disorder using dynamic semi-naturalistic stimuli.