Monday, May 2, 2022

How Does An Autistic Brain Work

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Autism Therapies And Solutions

And yet, even autistic adults who celebrate the beautiful difference of their minds, admit that certain symptoms associated with autism create difficulties in everyday life. For example, those on the spectrum often have trouble with social situations and communication. Addressing these challenges in a way that embraces who the child is, but modifies behavior to make life easier, seems like a worthy goal.

Some see transcranial magnetic stimulation as a treatment worthy of optimism. While researchers urge caution, studies suggest promise and both diagnostic and therapeutic potential .

The Cause Of Autism Is Unknown

It was once thought that poor parenting caused autism. This isdefinitely not true. Although the cause of autism is unclear, it is knownthat genetics do play a role. The disorder is seen often in identicaltwins: different studies have shown that if one identical twin has autismthen there is a 63-98% chance that the other twin will have it. Fornon-identical twins , the chanceis between 0-10% that both twins will develop autism. The chance thatsiblings will be affected by autism is about 3%.

Chance that both people will develop autism:



Autism appears to be associated with other chromosomal abnormalities,such as Fragile X syndrome or brain abnormalities such as congenitalrubella syndrome. A large number of people with these disorders are alsodiagnosed with autism. Furthermore, complicated births, such as difficultpregnancies, labor, or delivery may to contribute to the disorder.

Do Symptoms Of Autism Change Over Time

For many children, symptoms improve with age and behavioral treatment. During adolescence, some children with ASD may become depressed or experience behavioral problems, and their treatment may need some modification as they transition to adulthood. People with ASD usually continue to need services and supports as they get older, but depending on severity of the disorder, people with ASD may be able to work successfully and live independently or within a supportive environment.

How Does Autism Affect The Brain

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Autism is a brain disorder that affects how people interact with others. It occupies a spectrum, with severe autism at one end and high-functioning autism at the other. People with severe autism usually have intellectual impairments and little spoken language. Those with high-functioning autism have average or above average IQ, but struggle with more subtle aspects of communication, such as body language. As well as social difficulties, many individuals with autism show repetitive behaviors and have narrow interests.

The brains of people with autism process information differently to those of people without autism. The brain as a whole shows less coordinated activity in autism, for example. But whether individual brain regions themselves also work differently in autism is unclear. Watanabe et al. set out to answer this question by using a brain scanner to compare the resting brain activity of high-functioning people with autism to that of people without autism.

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  • What Role Do Genes Play

    Stress during pregnancy further linked to Autism Spectrum ...

    Twin and family studies strongly suggest that some people have a genetic predisposition to autism. Identical twin studies show that if one twin is affected, then the other will be affected between 36 to 95 percent of the time. There are a number of studies in progress to determine the specific genetic factors associated with the development of ASD. In families with one child with ASD, the risk of having a second child with the disorder also increases. Many of the genes found to be associated with autism are involved in the function of the chemical connections between brain neurons . Researchers are looking for clues about which genes contribute to increased susceptibility. In some cases, parents and other relatives of a child with ASD show mild impairments in social communication skills or engage in repetitive behaviors. Evidence also suggests that emotional disorders such as bipolar disorder and schizophrenia occur more frequently than average in the families of people with ASD.

    Diagnosis: Poor Social Skills

    Trouble relating to other people is an important marker of an autism spectrum disorder. A psychologist with special training can help identify social problems as early as possible. Children may avoid looking people in the eye, including their parents. They may focus intently on an object, while ignoring others around them for long periods of time. They may not use gestures, body posture, or facial expressions to communicate.

    Early Screening For Autism

    Many children arenât diagnosed with an autism disorder until preschool or even kindergarten, and may miss getting the help they need in the early years. That’s why guidelines call for screening all children at nine months old for delays in basic skills. Special ASD checkups are needed at:

    • 18 months
    • As needed for children with worrisome behaviors or a family history of autism

    Learning Social Issues May Reflect Neuronal Miscommunication

    Washington University School of Medicine
    Mutations in a gene linked to autism in people causes neurons to form too many connections in rodents, according to a new study. The findings suggest that malfunctions in communication between brain cells could be at the root of autism.

    A defective gene linked to autism influences how neurons connect and communicate with each other in the brain, according to a study from Washington University School of Medicine in St. Louis. Rodents that lack the gene form too many connections between brain neurons and have difficulty learning.

    The findings, published Nov. 2 in Nature Communications, suggest that some of the diverse symptoms of autism may stem from a malfunction in communication among cells in the brain.

    “This study raises the possibility that there may be too many synapses in the brains of patients with autism,” said senior author Azad Bonni, MD, PhD, the Edison Professor of Neuroscience and head of the Department of Neuroscience at Washington University School of Medicine in St. Louis. “You might think that having more synapses would make the brain work better, but that doesn’t seem to be the case. An increased number of synapses creates miscommunication among neurons in the developing brain that correlates with impairments in learning, although we don’t know how.”

    Autism is a neurodevelopmental disorder affecting about one out of every 68 children. It is characterized by social and communication challenges.

    What Does Autism Do To The Brain

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    Much like a computer, the brain relies on intricate wiring to process and transmit information. Scientists have discovered that, in people with , there is a misfiring in communication between brain cells.

    So what does autism do to the brain, exactly?In the brain, nerve cells transmit important messages that regulate body functionseverything from social behavior to movement. Imaging studies have revealed that autistic children have too many nerve fibers, but that theyre not working well enough to facilitate communication between the various parts of the brain.

    Scientists think that all of this extra circuitry may affect brain size. Although autistic children are born with normal or smaller-than-normal brains, they undergo a period of rapid growth between ages 6 and 14 months, so that by about age four, their brains tends to be unusually large for their age. Genetic defects in brain growth factors may lead to this abnormal brain development.

    Scientists also have discovered irregularities in the brain structures themselves, such as in the corpus callosum , , and  . They believe these abnormalities occur during prenatal development.

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    Why A Magnetic Moon

    Certain rocks have the extraordinary ability to preserve records of past magnetic fields when they contain minerals with iron atoms that align with a magnetic field as the rock cools and solidifies. The best magnetic minerals at preserving evidence of a field are tiny a thousand times smaller than the width of a human hair because it takes a lot of energy to rearrange their atoms.

    Geophysicists who study ancient magnetism recreate this process, reheating rock samples in the presence of known magnetic fields and comparing the new alignment of the iron atoms with the orientation of iron atoms before the rock was reheated. This allows researchers to learn about past magnetic fields.

    Early researchers studying the first rocks brought back from the Moon by U.S. astronauts wanted to use this method to study the Moon’s magnetism. But they faced problems. Lunar rocks contain a certain type of iron called native iron that is easily altered by heat. Additionally, the native iron grains in lunar rocks are sometimes relatively large, making them less likely to reliably record past magnetic fields.

    From the 1970s onward, geophysicists used alternative, nonheating methods to study the Moon’s magnetism. They found that some lunar samples had recorded strong magnetic fields, suggesting that the Moon had a magnetic field for over 2 billion years.

    But this result only deepened the conundrum. The question of how the Moon’s core could produce a strong magnetic field remained unsolved.

    How Is The Structure Of The Brain Different

    The neuroanatomy of autism is difficult to describe, Dr. Culotta says. So it might be easier to talk about the architecture of the brain and how the autistic brain may differ.

    So whats different in the structure of this three-pound organ? Lets start with a quick anatomy refresher: First of all, the brain is split into two halves or hemispheres. It is these two hemispheres that we get the idea of a left brain and a right brain. In reality, our thinking and cognitive processes bounce back and forth between the two halves. Theres a little bit of difficulty in autism communicating between the left and right hemispheres in the brain. Theres not as many strong connections between the two hemispheres, Dr. Anderson says.

    In recent years, science has found that the hemispheres of ASD brains have slightly more symmetry than those of a regular brain. This small difference in asymmetry isnt enough to diagnosis ASD, according to a report in Nature Communications. And, exactly how the symmetry may play into autisms traits is still be researched.

    Now, were going to get a little technical. Grey matter ripples into peaks and troughs called gyri and sulci, respectively. According to researchers from San Diego State University, these deep folds and wrinkles may develop differently in ASD. Specifically, in autistic brains there is significantly more folding in the left parietal and temporal lobes as well as in the right frontal and temporal regions.

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    Changes In Autism Severity Over Time

    The white matter research builds on a previous MIND Institute study, which found that while many children experience fairly stable levels of autism symptoms throughout childhood, a significant portion can be expected to increase or decrease in their symptom severity over time.

    This new analysis provides an important clue about the brain mechanism that may be involved in some of these changes, said .

    Breaking Down Current Theories About Autism And The Brain

    PediaSpeech: Parts of the Brain Affected by Autism

    For my first few posts on Psychology Today, I wanted to give an overview of the most popular theories about the brain basis of . Over the first two blog posts, I’ll discuss four theoriesbut keep in mind there are others as well.

    In this first post, I will review the social hypothesis and overly intense world hypothesis.

    Social Motivation Hypothesis

    One of the core symptoms of autism is a lack of social interaction, especially for young children. Parents often notice that their child with autism is less likely to show them toys or to spontaneously interact with other children or adults compared to neurotypical children.

    The social motivation hypothesis proposes that this might be due to the brains reward system. We know that for neurotypical individuals, social interactions are rewarding. For example, research has shown that eye contact with attractive faces activates the reward centers of the brain . The idea behind the social motivation hypothesis is that maybe children with autism do not find social interactions as rewarding as their neurotypical peerswhich would explain why children with autism are less likely to initiate social interaction.

    research from my lab , and others have provided evidence for the social motivation hypothesis. We found that children with autism have less reward-related brain activity than their neurotypical peers when they are anticipating social information .

    Overly Intense World Hypothesis

    Executive Functioning Challenges For People With Autism

    The amygdala is an almond-shaped brain structure that is critical for interpreting and tagging emotionally significant things in our environment. For example, if you see a snake and feel a rush of , you can thank your amygdala. The amygdala has tagged snakes as something important . Similarly, if you hear a song that brings you back to a highly emotional time in your life , thats also your amygdala.

    As you might imagine, the amygdala sometimes tags things as scary that we wish it didntwhich is why this brain area has been important to our understanding of disorders and fear . In autism, over-activation in the amygdala is potentially related to why these individuals find social situations unpleasant, or even aversive .

    According to the IWH, it might be over-activity of both the prefrontal cortex and amygdala that explains the hyper-sensitivity of individuals on the spectrum. Interestingly, this theory could also explain the exceptional talents of some individuals on the spectrum. For example, individuals with autism may have amazing memories, be able to notice extremely small and important details, or perfect pitch .

    Wrap up

    I hope it was helpful to review and break down these two theories. Stay tuned for the next two in the next post!


    Kampe, K.K.W., Frith, C.D., Dolan, R.J., Frith, U. . Reward value of attractiveness and gaze. Nature, 413, 589.

    Pring, L. . Savant talent. Dev. Med. Child Neurol. 47, 500503.

    They Are Interested In Making Money

    Parents who say the program doesnt work resent the thousands of dollars they spent to test it out.

    Srikanth Mamidi was so angry about not seeing lasting benefits for his autistic son after six months in a Brain Balance program in Cary, North Carolina, that he tracked Melillo down at a ribbon cutting for another center and confronted him.

    It was a time waster, an energy waster and a money waster, Mamidi said.

    The program had seemed wacky to him, but he and his wife were determined to avoid giving medication to their son, who was 11 at the time and was struggling to make friends and pay attention in class, he said. They were hopeful when they paid $10,000 for the program and committed to driving 40 minutes each way for the training sessions.

    But Mamidi said the small changes they saw in the beginning, such as a slight improvement in their sons ability to communicate, faded quickly.

    When Mamidi confronted Melillo in 2016, the company founder just walked away, Mamidi said. They are interested in making money rather than improving peoples lives, he said.

    Melillo said he did not recall the confrontation but notes that Mamidi is just one disgruntled parent among thousands who swear by the results.

    Most Brain Balance posted on and are . Many franchise owners, including the couple who own the Oxford center, are former clients who tell moving stories about the relief they felt when they walked through the door after an overwhelming quest to help their children.

    The Problem With Synaptic Pruning

    From when were an embryo until the age of two, an incredible process called synaptogenesis takes place in the brain. During this stage, up to 40,000 new synapses are created per second.

    • During that time, children have more neurons than they need. Therefore, as the brain develops, the most useful connections will be myelinated and the rest will be eliminated.
    • Synaptic pruning occurs mainly in the cerebral cortex. This way, the processes that regulate executive functions such as thought, analysis, reflection, and attention are strengthened.
    • The study concluded that in the case of children with ASD, this synaptic pruning only reached 16% instead of 50%.

    Brain Study Finds Evidence That Autism Involves Too Many Synapses

    Researchers propose that someday it may be possible treat autism with drugs that restore normal pruning of brain-cell connections

    August 21, 2014

    A newly published brain-tissue study suggests that children affected by autism have a surplus of synapses, or connections between brain cells. The excess is due to a slowdown in the normal pruning process that occurs during brain development, the researchers say.

    The study team also found that the medication rapamycin both restores normal synaptic pruning and reduces autism-like behaviors in a mouse model of autism. They propose that someday a similar medication might be used to treat autism after a child or even adult has been diagnosed.

    The report, by neuroscientists at Columbia University Medical Center, appears in the journal .

    Autism Speaks is currently funding several studies on rapamycin. It is also supporting a treatment study using a medication with a very similar action for treatment of autism associated with tuberous sclerosis complex . This rare syndrome often, but not always, involves autism. Indeed, the laboratory mice used in the new Columbia study were developed as an animal model of this syndrome.

    The insights from the new study also underscore the vital importance of post-mortem brain donations in advancing research on autism treatments, Dr. Wang adds.

    Autism Speaks actively supports autism brain banking through Autism BrainNet.

    Uc Davis Mind Institute Researchers Tracked Brain Changes In Children Over Many Years Using Mri Scans

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    Two groundbreaking studies at the UC Davis MIND Institute provide clues about possible types of autism linked to brain structure, including size and white matter growth.

    The research is based on brain scans taken over many years as part of the Autism Phenome Project and Girls with Autism, Imaging of Neurodevelopment studies. It shows the value of longitudinal studies that follow the same children from diagnosis into adolescence.

    The researchers tracked brain growth and structure in hundreds of children from age 3 to age 12

    There is no other single site data set like ours anywhere, said Christine Wu Nordahl, associate professor in the Department of Psychiatry and Behavioral Sciences, MIND Institute faculty member and co-senior author on both papers. In one of the studies we have over 1,000 MRI scans from 400 kids, which is unheard of. Its been 15 years of work to get here.

    Some People Use Other Names For Autism

    There are other names for autism used by some people, such as:

    • autism spectrum disorder the medical name for autism
    • autism spectrum condition used instead of ASD by some people
    • Asperger’s used by some people to describe autistic people with average or above average intelligence

    Unlike some people with autism, people with Asperger’s do not have a learning disability.

    Some people call this “high-functioning” autism.

    Doctors do not diagnose people with Asperger’s anymore.

    But if you were diagnosed with it before, this will stay as your diagnosis.

    How Does It Work Differently

    The connections within a brain bring it to life. And its the brain cells or neurons that act as the messengers. When a brain cell is active, it creates an electrical impulse and that gets propagated to other cells in the brain. We think that electrical activity holds the basis of thought and behavior and how the brain functions, Dr. Anderson says.

    Researchers indirectly measure these electrical impulses by looking at how synchronized regions of the brain are. When regions are working together, they tend to have brain activity at the same time. Functional connectivity is the measurement of how much two regions of the brain seem to be synchronized or talking together.

    Where Can I Get More Information

    German Tech Company Seeks to Hire People With Autism

    For more information on neurological disorders or research programs funded by the National Institute of Neurological Disorders and Stroke, contact the Institute’s Brain Resources and Information Network at:

    Office of Communications and Public LiaisonNational Institute of Neurological Disorders and StrokeNational Institutes of HealthBethesda, MD 20892

    health-related material is provided for information purposes only and does not necessarily represent endorsement by or an official position of the National Institute of Neurological Disorders and Stroke or any other Federal agency. Advice on the treatment or care of an individual patient should be obtained through consultation with a physician who has examined that patient or is familiar with that patient’s medical history.

    All NINDS-prepared information is in the public domain and may be freely copied. Credit to the or the is appreciated.

    Understanding The Complicated Effects Of Autism

    Other research has also supported the theory that abnormalities of the cerebellum are associated with autism. A study published in Frontiers in Systems Neuroscience posited that impaired circuitry activity in the cerebellum could partially underlie symptoms of autism, including but not limited to restricted motor functioning and cognitive deficits, specifically with regard to attention span, language development, and executive functioning.

    If much remains unknown about autisms effects on the brain and if what is known appears patchy or even contradictory, it is because autism spectrum disorder is complicated, says PsyCom. Even as experts answer some questions about what autism does to the brain, there are further questions raised about other effects, how these effects lead to the development of autism symptoms, and even broader questions about the full scope of the functioning of the human brain itself.

    As more and more research is dedicated to the subject, well continue to uncover more about autisms effects on the brain.

    Other Signs And Symptoms

    People with autism sometimes may have physical symptoms, including digestive problems such as constipation and sleep problems. Children may have poor coordination of the large muscles used for running and climbing, or the smaller muscles of the hand. About a third of people with autism also have seizures.

    Defective Patterning In Autistic Brains

    Geschwind’s team analyzed postmortem samples from the brains of 19 people with autism and from 17 normal brains . The researchers extracted RNA from the brains, allowing them to analyze how genes express themselves in cells.

    “If DNA is the overall blueprint for the body, RNA is what is read out of the blueprint,” Geschwind says. “And what is read out of the blueprint in each tissue in the body is different.”

    Normal brains, they found, are alike in that for about 500 genes, gene expression in the temporal lobes — which regulate hearing, language, and the processing and interpreting of sounds — is very different from gene expression in the frontal lobe, which plays a role in judgment, creativity, emotions, and speech.

    But in as many as 75% of the autistic brains there was very little difference in gene expression between the temporal and frontal lobes.

    In the autistic brains, genes related to synaptic function — information sharing between neuronal brain cells — were turned down to low levels of expression.

    “This points to a developmental patterning defect,” Geschwind says. “That means the usual patterning of the brain — the way different parts of the brain hook up — might be altered in autism.”

    Geschwind notes that this research is in the earliest stages and that much more work is needed to identify exactly what goes awry during brain development in people with autism.

    What’s It Like To Have Autism Spectrum Disorder

    A kid with autism might have trouble:

    • talking and learning the meaning of words
    • making friends or fitting in
    • dealing with changes
    • dealing with loud noises, bright lights, or crowds

    Kids also might move in an unusual way or do the same thing over and over .

    A kid with autism may have a little trouble with these things, or a lot. Some kids need only a little bit of help, and others might need a lot of help with learning and doing everyday stuff.

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