Abstract / Description of output
This study aimed to investigate the functional imaging associations of autism in individuals with special educational needs and demonstrate the feasibility of such research. The study included 18 individuals (3 female,15 male; mean age 24.3; mean IQ 69.7) with special educational needs (SEN), of whom 9 met criteria for autism. The task examined the Blood-oxygen-level dependent response to fearful and neutral faces. Individuals in the autism group had 2 clusters of significantly reduced activity centered on the left superior frontal gyrus and left angular gyrus compared to those with SEN alone in response to the fearful faces. In the response to neutral faces, individuals in the autism group also had a cluster of significantly greater activity centred on the right precentral gyrus compared to those with SEN alone. We suggest that autistic characteristics in individuals with SEN are associated with changes in fearful facial emotion processing analogous to those previously reported in autistic individuals without SEN, and who are of average or above average cognitive ability. The finding of enhanced response to neutral facial stimuli needs further investigation, although we speculate this may relate to reports of the experience of ‘hyper-mentalisation’ in social situations as reported by some autistic individuals.