Tuesday, March 12, 2013

Do Autistic People Have Different Brains?

It appears that the brains of children with autism are significantly larger than the brain of neurotypicals, but this difference decreases with age. The researcher Corchesne and his accomplices have found out that 90% the 30 studied boys with autism had a larger than normal brain volume. Yet this difference was not to be seen in the womb, so this seems to indicate that there has been a form of brain overgrowth during postnatal (after birth) development. Normally during early brain development a child loses a substantial amount of neural connectivity, to allow for more specialized brain function. Actually the phenomena of synesthesia, which was often associated with autism, seems to be caused by the failure to lose neural connectivity during development.
Another area in which the brain of people with an autistic spectrum disorder and the brain of neurotypical differ is the cerebellum. A part of the brain, most commonly associated with motor activity. Yet, what is not commonly known, is that this area of the brain is also associated with attention. When adolescents with autism where compared with their neurotypical peers, the children with autism showed less activation in the cerebellum in relation to attention and more in relation to motor activity. This suggests that there's a difference in the way that the cerebellum works in people with an autism spectrum disorder, when compared to neurotypical people. This is particularly interesting, because autism is also heavily linked with a disruption in motor coordination.
There have also been shown slight differences in the amygdala and hippocampus and areas of the prefrontal cortex associated with social cognition. Yet great caution is needed when clear roles are assigned to those very complex brain structures. This is especially the case when dealing with autism, because the localization of brain function (localization is defined as the clear correspondence of a specific part of the brain to a specific brain function) is far less consistent in people with an autism spectrum whose brains tend to be organized in a different way, and in a way that differs from person to person.
Although the differences between the brains of a neurotypical and someone with an autism spectrum disorder are not clear-cut. Modern neuropsychology clearly states that the differences are present and are profound. Yet it is important to remember that this does not mean that the brain differences cause autism, it might be actually the other way around- autism might cause the differences in brain structure. What it does prove, in association with other evidence, is that autism is primarily a biological disorder.
I'm an aspiring psychotherapist who blogs about psychology. If you want to know more about autism, psychopathology and practical ways of improving your mental health, please visit it by clicking here
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