Researchers at the Center for BrainHealth at The University of Texas at Dallas, in collaboration with co-leading authors at George Washington University and Yale, have demonstrated in a pilot study that a clinician-driven virtual learning platform, tailored to young adults on the autism spectrum, shows improved social competency. Findings published in Autism Research reveal that increases in socio-emotional and socio-cognitive abilities correlate with brain change. Results included increased activation in the brain’s socio-cognition hub with gains linked to improvement on an empathy measure.

“Many individuals with autism spend months and years in different forms of trainings with limited measurable gains,” explained principal investigator Dr. Sandra Bond Chapman, founder and chief director of the Center for BrainHealth. “A major contribution of our study is the results challenge the outdated view that social cognition issues are difficult to remediate after childhood. Indeed, we find it promising that this intervention extended the potential to positively impact brain systems and social cognition into adulthood.”

The social cognition virtual reality training, now available under the name CharismaTM through the Center for BrainHealth’s Brain Performance Institute, demonstrated that study participants with autism shifted their attention from non-social information — a behavior commonly displayed in autism — to social information, a skill that is meaningful.

According to Chapman, virtual learning platforms have the potential to transform assessment, enhancement and motivation toward treatment in a wide range of populations needing practice in complex social environments.

“Our study suggests that our CharismaTM social cognition training, developed by the Center for BrainHealth’s technology team, may offer an advantage in achieving gains to that conferred by traditional types of training in autism. Support of this potential is that the gains were achieved after just 10 hours of training and were present in both social skills as well as the strengthening and reorganizing of underlying brain networks that support social functioning,” added Chapman.

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Published on Patient Talk March 13, 2020