Do Brains of Children with Autism Develop More Slowly?

A study conducted and analyzed by UCLA produced some solid findings on the development of the brain in children with autism. They took scans of the brains at two different periods of development. Findings were published in Human Brain Mapping. Most cases of autism are diagnosed during the pre-toddler to toddler years (usually around the age of three).
Normal brain activity during adolescence is the creation of new connections (aka white matter) and purging of unused connections (aka gray matter). This process helps the brain function in the most efficient manner possible.
“Because the brain of a child with autism develops more slowly during this critical period of life [adolescence], these children may have an especially difficult time struggling to establish personal identity, develop social interactions and refine emotional skills.” Xua Hua, Ph. D.
The results of these findings will possibly be used in a couple of ways:

  • First, they help explain some of the symptoms displayed by those with autism.
  • Secondly, this information can be used to hopefully develop more improved treatment options.

The researchers comfirmed that there was slower growth in the areas of the brain responsible for social skills, language, and repetitive behavior. On top of slower growth, there were a couple areas that were not pruned properly:

  • The Putamen-the area responsible for learning new information.
  • Anterior Cingulate-involved in cognition and emotional behavior.

As can be seen in the picture at the bottom of this post, the brain of a child with autism is not purged of older cells properly, thus creating a slower connection (due to the greater distance between) the new cells that are forming. This research is important for several reasons:

  • It provides greater insight into the workings of the brain in a child with autism.
  • In turn, that allows professionals to determine best practices when teaching a child with autism new information or skills.
  • Lastly, this could aid in the process of creating a future treatment/cure if not a prevention mechanism.

Once again, we are one step closer to understanding the brain of a child with autism. Thanks for reading and have a great day!

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