Atypical Mediofrontal Theta Oscillations Underlying Cognitive Control in Kindergarteners With Autism Spectrum Disorder

Published:April 14, 2021DOI:



      Children with autism spectrum disorder (ASD) often exhibit deficits in cognitive control. Neuroimaging approaches have implicated disruptions to mediofrontal cortex structure and function. However, previous work is limited in testing whether young children with ASD exhibit disruptions to task-related theta oscillations thought to arise from the mediofrontal cortex.


      Children with ASD (n = 43) and age- and sex-matched typically developing peers (n = 24) at kindergarten entry performed a child-friendly Go/NoGo task while 64-channel electroencephalography was recorded. Time-frequency approaches were employed to assess the magnitude of mediofrontal theta oscillations immediately after error (vs. correct) responses (early theta) as well as later emerging theta oscillations (late theta). We tested whether error-related mediofrontal theta oscillations differed as a function of diagnosis (ASD/typical) and timing (early/late theta). In addition, links to social and academic outcomes were tested.


      Overall, children showed increased theta power after error versus correct responses. Compared with typically developing children, children with ASD exhibited a selective reduction in error-related mediofrontal theta power during the late time window. There were no significant group differences for early theta power. Moreover, reduced error-related theta power during the late, but not early, time window significantly predicted poorer academic and social skills.


      Kindergarteners with ASD demonstrated a selective reduction in error-related mediofrontal theta power during a relatively late time window, which is consistent with impairments in specific cognitive processes that recruit top-down control. Targeting these particular cognitive control processes via intervention prior to school entry may promote more successful functional outcomes for children with ASD.


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