Atypical connectivity aids conversation in autism

Kyle Jasmin, Alex Martin, Stephen J Gotts

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review


It is well-established that individuals with autism exhibit atypical functional brain connectivity. However, the role this plays in naturalistic social settings has remained unclear. Atypical patterns may reflect core deficits or may instead compensate for deficits and promote adaptive behavior. Distinguishing these possibilities requires measuring the ‘typicality’ of spontaneous behavior and determining how connectivity relates to it. Thirty-nine male participants (19 autism, 20 typically-developed) engaged in 115 spontaneous conversations with an experimenter during fMRI scanning. A classifier algorithm was trained to distinguish participants by diagnosis based on 81 semantic, affective and linguistic dimensions derived from their use of language. The algorithm’s graded likelihood of a participant's group membership (autism vs. typically-developed) was used as a measure of task performance and compared with functional connectivity levels. The algorithm accurately classified participants and its scores correlated with clinician-observed autism signs (ADOS-2). In support of a compensatory role, greater functional connectivity between right inferior frontal cortex and left-hemisphere social communication regions correlated with more typical language behavior, but only for the autism group. We conclude that right inferior frontal functional connectivity increases in autism during communication reflect a neural compensation strategy that can be quantified and tested even without an a priori behavioral standard.
Original languageEnglish
Article number5303
JournalScientific Reports
Publication statusPublished - 31 Mar 2023

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