Noticing and understanding what it means when a person leans in a conversation or steps back and folds their arms is an essential part of human communication. Researchers from the Del Monte Institute for Neuroscience at the University of Rochester have found that children with autism spectrum disorders may not always process body movements effectively, especially if they are distracted by other things.
“Being able to read and respond to someone’s body language is important in our daily interactions with others,” said Emily Knight, MD, Ph.D., clinical and postdoctoral fellow in pediatrics and neuroscience, is the first author of the recently published study. in Molecular autism. “Our results suggest that when children with autism are distracted by something else, their brains process another person’s movements differently than their peers.”
Main differences in brain processes
Using an electroencephalogram (EEG), the researchers recorded the brain waves of autistic and non-autistic children as they watched videos of moving dots arranged to resemble a person. In these videos, the dots moved to represent actions such as running, kicking, or jumping, and were sometimes rotated in different directions or blended together to no longer move like a person. Children aged 6 to 16 were asked to focus on the color of the dots or to focus on whether the dots moved like a person. The researchers found that the brain waves of autistic children did not process when the dots moved like a person if they focused on the color of the dots.
“If their brain processes body movement less, they might have a harder time understanding others and need to pay close attention to body language to see that,” Knight said. “Knowing this can help guide new ways to support people with autism.”
“This is further evidence of how the brain of an autistic person processes the world around them,” said John Foxe, Ph.D., lead author of the study. “This research is a critical step in creating a more inclusive space for people with autism by providing insight into how their brain processes an unspoken part of communication.”
Other authors include Ed Freedman, Ph.D., of the University of Rochester Medical Center, John Butler, Ph.D., Aaron Krakowski, and Sophie Molholm, Ph.D., of Einstein College of Medicine. This research was supported by the National Institute of Mental Health and the University of Rochester Intellectual and Developmental Disabilities Research Center (UR-IDDRC) and the Rose F. Kennedy (RFK-IDDRC).