(HealthDay News) – Unlike typically developing children, children with autism do not use language areas of the brain to identify socially inappropriate behavior, according to a study published online Oct 17 in PLoS One.

Elizabeth J Carter, PhD, from Carnegie Mellon University in Pittsburgh, and colleagues performed functional magnetic resonance imaging in 12 children with autism and 13 children with typical development while they were shown two pictures and asked which was of a boy being bad (social condition) or which was outdoors (physical condition).

The researchers found that both groups successfully performed the task, which required minimal language. Both groups performed similarly on eyetracking measures. However, children with typical development used mentalizing and language networks (bilateral inferior frontal gyrus [IFG], bilateral medial prefrontal cortex [mPFC], and bilateral posterior superior temporal sulcus [pSTS]), while children with autism used a network including right IGF and bilateral pSTS, indicating reduced social and language network use. The typical development group had greater mPFC, bilateral IFG, and left superior temporal pole activity than the autism group in a direct comparison on the Social-Physical contrast, while in the autism group, no networks were more active.

“Even though language was unnecessary, the children with typical development recruited language areas during the social task, suggesting automatic encoding of their knowledge into language; however, this was not the case for the children with autism,” Carter and colleagues conclude. “These findings support behavioral research indicating that, whereas children with autism may recognize socially inappropriate behavior, they have difficulty using spoken language to explain why it is inappropriate.”

Full Text