A recent study conducted by specialists at John Hopkins Medicine has added to the body of existing evidence concerning language comprehension in children and adults with autism. Previous research has shown that children with autism have difficulty sorting out pairs of words that are unrelated from pairs that are related. This new research has shown that some adults on the spectrum were able to process unrelated words at the same comprehension level as adults without autism; the difference is the patterns in which language is processed.

Researchers recruited twenty adults with mild to moderate ASD with full verbal abilities, and twenty adults without ASD to use as a comparative group. Participants ranged in age from 18-69. They first completed an hour and a half computer task that showed them two pictures or two words and asked them to determine if they pictures or words were related or unrelated. The first picture or word flashed on the screen for one second, followed by a brief pause before the second picture or word was shown. Researchers monitored participant’s electrical brain activity while they completed the task.

Results from the brain monitoring showed participants with ASD had the same responses to unrelated words or pictures as participants without ASD, but at a slightly different speed. This indicates the two groups used different strategies when thinking about the meaning of words.

Science Daily quotes Emily Coderre, a postdoctoral fellow in neurology at the Johns Hopkins University School of Medicine, saying, “If we can understand those compensatory strategies better, then teachers can use this information in language programs for children or those with more severe language deficits to help them develop these alternative strategies faster and earlier,” she adds. “I hope our study sends a hopeful message to people with autism or their parents.”

Coderre hopes to continue this research with children to better understand the brain processes used in language comprehension for individuals on the spectrum. This better understanding could add major benefits to the autism community, specifically with early intervention services and enhanced methods for language therapy.

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