The development of language, social interaction and communicative skills is remarkably different in the child with autism spectrum disorder (ASD). Atypical brain connectivity has frequently been reported in this patient population. However, the neural correlates underlying their disrupted language development and functioning are still poorly understood. Using resting state fMRI, we investigated the functional connectivity properties of the language network in a group of ASD patients with clear comorbid language impairment (ASD-LI; N = 19) and compared them to the language related connectivity properties of 23 age-matched typically developing children. A verb generation task was used to determine language components commonly active in both groups. Eight joint language components were identified and subsequently used as seeds in a resting state analysis. Interestingly, both the interregional and the seed-based whole brain connectivity analysis showed preserved connectivity between the classical intrahemispheric language centers, Wernicke's and Broca's areas. In contrast however, a marked loss of functional connectivity was found between the right cerebellar region and the supratentorial regulatory language areas. Also, the connectivity between the interhemispheric Broca regions and modulatory control dorsolateral prefrontal region was found to be decreased. This disruption of normal modulatory control and automation function by the cerebellum may underlie the abnormal language function in children with ASD-LI.
Keywords: Autism spectrum disorders; Cerebellum; Language function; Resting state fMRI.