“The archeologist's career ended in ruins”: Hemispheric differences in pun comprehension in autism

Department of Psychology, University of Alabama at Birmingham, CIRC 235G, 1719 6th Ave South, Birmingham, AL 35294-0021, USA.
NeuroImage (Impact Factor: 6.36). 04/2012; 62(1):77-86. DOI: 10.1016/j.neuroimage.2012.04.034
Source: PubMed


Appropriate interpretation of figurative language involves inferring the speaker's intent by integrating word meaning with context. In disorders like autism, understanding intended and contextual meanings in language may pose a challenge. Such difficulties are prevalent even when individuals exhibit otherwise fluent language ability (Szatmari et al., 1990). A pun is a rhetorical technique in which a speaker deliberately invokes multiple meanings through a word or phrase likely resulting in a joke. Comprehending puns may involve identifying multiple meanings of a word, embedding it in right contexts, and understanding the underlying humor. This fMRI study investigated the brain responses associated with figures of speech like puns. In the fMRI scanner, participants read sentences containing puns (e.g. To write with a broken pencil is pointless) and control sentences (literal meaning) presented in a blocked design format. The participants' task was to silently read and understand one meaning (in the literal condition) or two meanings (in the pun condition). Participants with autism, relative to typical controls, showed an increase in overall activation while comprehending sentences containing puns, particularly within the right hemisphere as well as in relatively posterior brain areas. Overall, there was reduced response in left hemisphere areas, reduced response to humor, and more distributed recruitment of regions in autism relative to control participants. We also examined the relationship between symptom severity in autism and verbal ability with brain responses to pun comprehension finding negative and positive correlations respectively. Overall, the results from the present study suggest that individuals with autism resort to altered neural routes in comprehending language in general, and figurative language in particular.

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    • "Functional MRI ( fMRI ) studies of language comprehension in adults with ASD have found the recruitment of additional / alternative neural routes outside the typical language network [ Baron - Cohen , et al . , 2001 ; Kana & Wadsworth , 2012 ; Mason et al . , 2008 ; Tesink et al . "
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    ABSTRACT: Deficits in language comprehension have been widely reported in children with autism spectrum disorders (ASD), with behavioral and neuroimaging studies finding increased reliance on visuospatial processing to aid in language comprehension. However, no study to date, has taken advantage of this strength in visuospatial processing to improve language comprehension difficulties in ASD. This study used a translational neuroimaging approach to test the role of a visual imagery-based reading intervention in improving the brain circuitry underlying language processing in children with ASD. Functional magnetic resonance imaging (MRI), in a longitudinal study design, was used to investigate intervention-related change in sentence comprehension, brain activation, and functional connectivity in three groups of participants (age 8-13 years): an experimental group of ASD children (ASD-EXP), a wait-list control group of ASD children (ASD-WLC), and a group of typically developing control children. After intervention, the ASD-EXP group showed significant increase in activity in visual and language areas and right-hemisphere language area homologues, putamen, and thalamus, suggestive of compensatory routes to increase proficiency in reading comprehension. Additionally, ASD children who had the most improvement in reading comprehension after intervention showed greater functional connectivity between left-hemisphere language areas, the middle temporal gyrus and inferior frontal gyrus while reading high imagery sentences. Thus, the findings of this study, which support the principles of dual coding theory [Paivio 2007], suggest the potential of a strength-based reading intervention in changing brain responses and facilitating better reading comprehension in ASD children. Autism Res 2015. © 2015 International Society for Autism Research, Wiley Periodicals, Inc. © 2015 International Society for Autism Research, Wiley Periodicals, Inc.
    Autism Research 05/2015; DOI:10.1002/aur.1503 · 4.33 Impact Factor
    • "Functional MRI ( fMRI ) studies of language comprehension in adults with ASD have found the recruitment of additional / alternative neural routes outside the typical language network [ Baron - Cohen , et al . , 2001 ; Kana & Wadsworth , 2012 ; Mason et al . , 2008 ; Tesink et al . "
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    ABSTRACT: Background: Deficits in language comprehension have been widely reported in children with autism spectrum disorders (ASD). Such deficits generally range from lack of functional speech to difficulties in comprehension and discourse processing (Tager-Flusberg et al., 2005). Deficits in language result in variable reading profiles in individuals with ASD, the most common being that of poor comprehension despite adequate decoding skills (Nation et al., 2006). Improving reading comprehension in children with ASD is a challenging task. The Visualizing and Verbalizing for Language (V/V) Intervention program (Bell, 1991; Torgeson et al., 1999) targets visual imagery skills of children with language disabilities to help them improve both oral and reading comprehension. Objectives: The goal of the present study was to investigate the impact of a 10-week intensive V/V language intervention on reading and language abilities in high-functioning children with ASD. Methods: Children (ages 8-13 years) with ASD were randomly assigned to an Intervention group (n = 23) or Wait-List Control group (n = 18). Additionally, children with typical development (n= 26) were recruited as a control group. Children in the Intervention group received the V/V training, a one-on-one intervention that lasted 10 weeks (total = 200 hours of direct instruction). All children with ASD were tested on a variety of neuropsychological measures at baseline and at 10 weeks. Results: (1) At baseline, the Intervention group had significantly lower scores than the control group on their reading comprehension (t(47)=-6.24, p=.000) on the Gray Oral Reading Test-4 (GORT-4), receptive vocabulary (t(47)=-2.43, p=.02) on the Peabody Picture Vocabulary Test-4 (PPVT-4), expressive vocabulary (t(47)=-1.97, p=.05) on the Expressive Vocabulary Test-2 (EVT-2), and oral comprehension (t(46)=-2.63, p=.01) on the Oral Directions subtest of the Detroit Tests of Learning Aptitude-2 (DTLA-2); (2) After 10 weeks, the Intervention group did not differ from the control group on their scores on the PPVT-4, EVT-2, or DTLA-2. The Wait-List Control group did not show this pattern of results at pre- or post-testing; and (3) The Intervention group significantly improved their reading comprehension scores on the GORT-4 following intervention (F(1,21)=15.06, p=.001, partial eta squared=.418). Conclusions: The language intervention in this study was designed to use nonverbal sensory input to develop oral and written language comprehension, establish vocabulary, and develop higher order thinking skills. Our findings revealed that following intervention, children with ASD improved their receptive and expressive vocabulary, as well as oral comprehension to the level of typically developing control children. The intervention group also showed an improvement in their comprehension from first session to the second. Overall, our findings suggest that the V/V program appears helpful in improving vocabulary and oral comprehension abilities in children with ASD. More research, with larger samples, is needed to further establish the effectiveness of this program on reading comprehension abilities in children with ASD.
    2014 International Meeting for Autism Research; 05/2014
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    • "The authors found lower functional connectivity in the left hemisphere language network for both children and adults with ASD compared to their respective NT groups; differences were also found in distribution of activity in the language network and dynamic recruitment of brain regions depending on text content (see also Kana and Wadsworth, 2012). Brain activity during speech and song auditory stimulation in low-functioning children with ASD and age-matched NT participants was investigated with MRI (Lai et al., 2012). "
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    ABSTRACT: Impairments in language and communication are core features of Autism Spectrum Disorder (ASD), and a substantial percentage of children with ASD do not develop speech. ASD is often characterized as a disorder of brain connectivity, and a number of studies have identified white matter impairments in affected individuals. The current study investigated white matter integrity in the speech network of high-functioning adults with ASD. Diffusion tensor imaging (DTI) scans were collected from 18 participants with ASD and 18 neurotypical participants. Probabilistic tractography was used to estimate the connection strength between ventral premotor cortex (vPMC), a cortical region responsible for speech motor planning, and five other cortical regions in the network of areas involved in speech production. We found a weaker connection between the left vPMC and the supplementary motor area in the ASD group. This pathway has been hypothesized to underlie the initiation of speech motor programs. Our results indicate that a key pathway in the speech production network is impaired in ASD, and that this impairment can occur even in the presence of normal language abilities. Therapies that result in normalization of this pathway may hold particular promise for improving speech output in ASD.
    Clinical neuroimaging 08/2013; 3:234-241. DOI:10.1016/j.nicl.2013.08.011 · 2.53 Impact Factor
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