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“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

ABSTRACT 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 · 4.53 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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    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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