The research, supported by a four-year grant totaling $600,000 from the National Institute of Mental Health, could help with early-detection, diagnosis and treatment of children with autism.
Scientists have found that the human brain is organized into a collection of several networks that work together to support various behaviors and functions.
Researchers have identified that at least two of those networks are linked to social behavior. These two social brain networks are activated when trying to make inferences about others' feelings, emotions and intentions.
"There is evidence that individuals with autism spectrum disorders have atypical brain connectivity," Fishman said. "Some brain networks show increased or over-connectivity, while other networks show decreased or under-connectivity."
Fishman's research will help demonstrate whether this atypical connectivity within, as well as between the two social brain networks links to the impaired social functioning characterizing autistic children and adolescents.
Despite a great deal of research devoted to understanding autism spectrum disorders, large-scale studies of brain network connectivity in autism using multiple brain imaging methods are rare.
The grant will allow Fishman, along with SDSU psychology professor Ralph-Axel M-ller, to study a total of 160 children and adolescents, 80 with autism and 80 who are typically developed, from the ages of seven to 18.