Date of Award:


Document Type:


Degree Name:

Doctor of Philosophy (PhD)


Special Education and Rehabilitation

Committee Chair(s)

Ronald Gillam


Ronald Gillam


Thomas S. Higbee


Beth Foley


Breanna Studenka


Sandra L. Gillam


This study examined the neurological activation of children with autism spectrum disorders (ASD) while performing a pragmatic judgment task. In this study, children between the ages of 9 and 15 years responded to questions regarding a social situation, taken from the Comprehensive Assessment of Spoken Language, while concurrently having their brain activity measured. We targeted four brain regions for analysis: dorsolateral prefrontal cortex (DLPFC), orbitofrontal cortex (OFC), superior temporal gyrus (STG), and the inferior parietal lobule (IPL).

Ten children with ASD and 20 typically developing (TD) children participated. Matching occurred in a bracketing manner with each child in the ASD group being matched to two control children to account for natural variability. Neuroimgaging was conducted utilizing functional Near‐Infrared Spectroscopy (fNIRS). Oxygenated and deoxygenated blood concentration levels were measured through Near‐Infrared light cap with 44 channels. The cap was placed over frontal lobe and the left lateral cortex. The placement was spatially registered using the Polhemus.

Analysis indicated that children in the ASD group performed significantly poorer than their controls on the pragmatic judgment task. Mixed repeated measures analysis of variance of neurological data indicated that the children with ASD had lower concentration levels of oxygenated and total hemoglobin across the four regions. There were significantly higher concentration levels for oxygenated and total hemoglobin in the STG. Analysis of correct and incorrect responses revealed significantly more activation in the OFC when responses were correct. Additionally, there was a significant interaction of Accuracy and Group in left DLPFC. Children with ASD presented higher oxygenated hemoglobin concentration values when responding correctly, while children in the control group presented higher oxygenated hemoglobin concentration values for the incorrect items. Statistical Parametric Mapping was performed for each triad to assess the diffusion of neural activation across the frontal cortex and the left lateral cortex. Individual comparisons revealed that 7 out of 10 children with ASD demonstrated patterns consistent with more diffuse brain activation than their TD controls.

Findings from this study suggest that an fNIRS study can provide important information about the level and diffusion of neural processing of verbal children and adolescents with ASD.