Autism and Brain

The brain is a very complex, enigmatic organ, probably as complicated as the universe itself. Unraveling the mysterious links between autism and brain structures would certainly be a profoundly difficult task. However, modern scientists are working hard to decipher the differences in the autistic brain as they believe that this could hold the key to its treatment and in a path-breaking cure.

How is the autistic brain different?

  • The very first feature to be studied was the appearance of the autistic brain. A number of studies in this regard have revealed the following observations:-
  • Autistic brains are larger at a specific point in post-natal development
  • Portions of the brain such as the amygdala could be enlarged in autistic brains.
  • “Minicolumns” may be more in number and could be differently formed thus accounting for anomalies in brain function

autism and brain

How the autistic brain is differently wired

Most of the latest findings point to the fact that autism is caused by a malfunction of the cortex, more popularly known as the “grey matter”. The cortex controls the complex brain functions such as sensation, thought, reasoning and voluntary movement.

The brains of autistic people develop too quickly in the initial stages and this accelerated growth at the wrong time is responsible for the faulty wiring. As a consequence, the cortex shows abnormal connections, resulting in poor language and reasoning abilities. The minicolumns in the cortex are greater in number in people with autism and the insulation between these minicolumns is not as well developed as it is in normally developing persons. This could be the main reason as to why autistic people lack the ability to block unnecessary sensory output and cannot think rationally or perceive the world as we do.

The disadvantages of faulty wiring

The behavioral function of the autistic brain is greatly compromised because of its abnormal wiring. It adversely influences everything that requires integration and processing of information, which is the reason why social interaction is the area that is most profoundly affected. Even if some autistic individuals score high on IQ, they show retarded emotional and social development.

The positive side of faulty wiring

Strange as it may sound, there are some plus points emerging form this deviation in normal wiring. Autistic persons show a superior ability to process visual stimuli from the right side of the brain. Almost as if compensating for their difficulties with language processing, they show more advanced detail oriented processing than normally wired individuals which could give them a decided advantage in many areas.

What these differences mean to parents and caregivers

Knowledge of the differences in the brain of an autistic child might help the caregivers adopt a more tolerant approach towards the children along with finding appropriate strategies in dealing with them. Since autistic children think logically and predictably, they interpret instructions literally, which may often seem annoying to teachers. Eg a statement like ” you need to pull up your socks and work hard” could result in the autistic child actually bending down to pull up the socks. While this could be misconstrued as insolent behavior, it is actually obedience to the dot.

If  teachers and caregivers understand the differences in the autistic brain, it might also provide clues to enable better communication. The better approach in dealing with autistic children would be to use short, to the point and clear instructions with no scope for double meanings. Also the use of gestures and multiple intonation should be restricted to the minimum to facilitate communication.

Why is understanding the autistic brain so important?

Experts are of the opinion that a better understanding of the autistic brain would give rise to better treatments. While ABA techniques focus on teaching rules of language and communication, newer techniques aim to target the circuitry of the autistic brain in an attempt to make it more interactive. If the links between autism and brain structures could be decoded, then new treatments which enable the brain to correct the wiring seem very much within the realm of probability.

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