Exploring functional and structural language differences in Autism Spectrum Disorder

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Autism spectrum disorder (ASD) is a neurodevelopmental disorder, which is usually diagnosed at childhood and comprises a series of symptoms, including both social and non-social deficits. While there is a large variability within this disorder, most individuals may struggle with communication, both showing pragmatic deficits, and structural language processing deficits. Previous literature that has zoomed in on the latter suggest that brain functional differences may underlie this processing deficit. However, results so far have not been consistent. Furthermore, anatomical brain alterations have been found in ASD, but with no specificity to language regions. Therefore, the aim of this thesis was to further investigate these prior suggestions of atypical language processing, by integrating functional and anatomical data from ASD and neurotypical individuals (NT). To do this, functional MRI was used to determine brain activation differences across groups, while anatomical analysis had a main focus on gray matter asymmetry and cortical thickness. Overall, the current results support the idea of no functional differences across groups, challenging the idea of atypical language processing in ASD. Anatomical findings suggest cortical thickness differences in the right precentral gyrus, but no differences relating to language regions, with effects being not dependent on age, handedness, or sex. Keywords: autism spectrum disorder, structural language processing, fMRI, language network
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