The brain is a plastic, flexible organ — meaning there’s always a chance to rewire it in a way to improve its function, no matter how old you are. Physical activity paired with extended periods of disciplined focus in brain exercises (reading, writing, solving problems) is typically the way to do so.

Researchers wanted to test out the notion of brain plasticity in children who suffer from autism spectrum disorder (ASD), and to see if 10 weeks of intensive reading intervention could strengthen brain function. They found that the children with autism — who tend to have impaired connectivity between parts in the brain’s reading area — improved both their overall brain activity and reading comprehension after the intervention, which involved face-to-face reading instruction for four hours a day, five days a week.

The authors stress what they refer to as the “magic of intervention,” or the benefits of taking control and trying to overcome some of the negative aspects of autism.

“This study is the first to do reading intervention with ASD children using brain imaging techniques, and the findings reflect the plasticity of the brain,” Rajesh Kana, associate professor of psychology at the University of Alabama at Birmingham and lead author of the study, said in the press release. “Some parents think, if their child is 8 or 10 years old when diagnosed, the game is lost. What I stress constantly is the importance of intervention, and the magic of intervention, on the brain in general and brain connectivity in particular.”

The researchers measured boosted activity in parts of the children’s brains that had to do with language and visual/spatial processing in the left hemisphere of the brain after the 10-week course. They also found that there was increased brain activity and connectivity in two language areas: the left middle temporal gyrus, and the left inferior frontal gyrus.

“The ASD brain processing after intervention looks richer, with visual, semantic and motor coding that is reflected by more active visual activity and involvement of the motor areas,” Kana said in the press release.

Previous research has examined the impact of early intervention in children with autism. One recent study, published last year, found that if a child is diagnosed early enough (within 18 months of their birth) and receives intervention, they can actually reverse some of the symptoms associated with ASD. Kids who received intervention during the first year of life had fewer language delays and developmental impairments, the study found.

Source: Murdaugh D, Deshpande H, Kana R. The Impact of Reading Intervention on Brain Responses Underlying Language in Children With Autism. Autism Research. 2015.