Below are the summaries of two recent studies that looked at the brains of people with autism. Both studies expand the scientific community’s knowledge of autism and will eventually help researchers develop better methods for assisting and treating children with autism.
Symmetry in the Brain
The first study sheds some light on the brain difference that gives children with autism the ability to notice small details that other people miss. This ability, however, may also be connected to the fact that many children with autism have difficulty combining details to form a whole picture. Researchers now believe that this tendency to notice details is related to increased brain symmetry.
People without autism typically have an asymmetrical brain structure. This type of structure allows the brain to divide tasks more efficiently based on the type of information it receives. In general, the two hemispheres process information differently. The right hemisphere is better at seeing the whole picture while the left hemisphere is better at picking up small details.
Forming a Complete Picture
Most people’s brains rely more heavily on the right hemisphere than the left hemisphere. Since the autistic brain is more symmetrical, children with autism have a difficult time forming a complete picture out of the details that their brain collects. The scientists who conducted the study used MRI scans to compare the brains of typically developing children with the brains of children with autism. Scientists noticed that the brains of typically developing children featured a greater amount of asymmetry and more connections in the right hemisphere. The fact that there are more connections in the right hemisphere supports the idea that the right hemisphere is better at integrating small details with the larger picture.
Weak Central Coherence Theory
The scientists’ findings support the weak central coherence theory—a theory that seeks to explain why people diagnosed with autism can excel in certain subjects like mathematics yet experience difficulty with things like communication. By studying the unique aspects of the autistic brain, scientists hope to gain a greater understanding of the disorder and help children with autism develop their distinct abilities.
The second study, which was helmed by UCLA scientists, found further evidence of a specific molecular abnormality in the brains of people with autism. The scientists looked at the brains of nearly 100 deceased people and found that the brains of people with autism displayed a pattern of atypical genes. Additional research is needed in order to discover whether the abnormalities are a response to or a driver of the disorder.
The study points out that the first ten years of a person’s life may be the most important time for autism prevention. Furthermore, the study confirms previous research which found that people with autism have similar gene patterns in their frontal and temporal lobes.