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The Effects of Mindfulness Meditation on Resting-State Functional Connectivity and Executive Function in Adults with Autism Spectrum Disorder

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Individuals with autism spectrum disorder (ASD) are known to show impairments in various domains of executive function (EF) such as behavioral flexibility or inhibitory control. Research suggests that EF impairment in adults with ASD may relate to ASD core

Individuals with autism spectrum disorder (ASD) are known to show impairments in various domains of executive function (EF) such as behavioral flexibility or inhibitory control. Research suggests that EF impairment in adults with ASD may relate to ASD core symptoms, restrictive behaviors and social communication deficits. Mindfulness-based stress reduction (MBSR) has shown promise for improving EF abilities in neurotypical adults, but research has not explored its efficacy or neural mechanisms in adults with ASD. This pilot study examines the effects of an 8-week MBSR intervention on self-report measures of EF and resting-state functional connectivity in a sample of adults with ASD. Fifty-four participants were assigned either to an MBSR group (n = 29) or a social support group (n = 25). Executive function was measured using the BRIEF-2 before and after the intervention for the twenty-seven participants in the second cohort. MBSR-specific improvements in EF were found for BRIEF measures of initiation, inhibition, and working-memory. Resting-state fMRI data was analyzed using independent component analysis (ICA), and group by time resting-state functional connectivity differences were observed between the cerebellar network and frontal regions including the right frontal pole (rFP), medial frontal cortex (MFC) and left and right superior frontal gyri (SFG). The MBSR group showed increases in functional connectivity between the cerebellum and EF regions which correlated with improvements in BRIEF-2 measures. These findings suggest that MBSR may improve EF domains in adults with ASD, and that increases in functional connectivity between the cerebellum and frontal regions while at rest may be a mechanism for such improvements.

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2021