In recent times, Autism Spectrum Disorder is a lot more in the news, given that the studies regarding this disorder has gone up just, as the people who are suffering from it. Researchers all over the world have been working to unearth the deep-rooted causes of autism in order to benefit a huge number of people who struggle with social and developmental issues in their day to day lives.
Conflicting Findings so far…
Strangely, the results of these studies vary significantly. Brains in autistic individual function differently than the brain of a typical individual. In a normal person, the brain functions in a certain pattern – connecting the various units of the nervous system. This is known as Brain Connectivity.
This pattern also varies when the brain is in an active state (that is while performing an active task) to that of the brain’s ‘resting state’.
Recently, there has been conflicting study regarding this Brain Connectivity in ASD. Some studies have concluded that among autistic individuals, the Brain Connectivity is lower while in ‘resting state’. Ironically, a similar number of recent studies show over-connectivity as well. This is simulated in the diagram below:
Back to the Fundamentals
To address these diverse findings a recent research published in Nature Neuroscience, suggests that this over/under coordination between several aspects of the brain may suggest a more fundamental issue.
The study, headed by Avital Hahamy and Prof. Rafi Malach of the Weizmann Institute of Science (Department of Neurobiology) in Israel and Prof. Marlene Behrmann of Carnegie Mellon University, analyzed brain data of participating adults who have high levels of ASD. To study the Brain Connectivity, they used a new technology called FMRI (Functional Magnetic Resonance Imaging), a process of brain imaging that is used to understand the interactions between units of the nervous system when the brain is in the resting state.
According to Dr. Hahamy, the study of the resting state of the brain is vital since it is during the resting period when the brain patterns appear naturally and the interactions between various aspects of brain occur spontaneously.
In their study, the researchers found that this under or over connectivity in ASD is itself a characteristic of the disorder. This contrast in behavior of the autistic brain is termed by the researchers as the ‘Idiosyncratic Distortion‘ of the Brain functionality. The extent to which these patterns differ in an individual’s brain correlates to their behavioral patterns.
The Importance of Social Interactions in Brain Connectivity
So why does the brain patterns among average, day-to-day people match or are mostly similar? According to the researchers, the reason behind this matching pattern could be attributed to social interaction that a normal individual goes through while growing up. As the society defines most of our dimensions, an average person’s brain develops via intensive social interaction as well as several environmental attributes. This factor could explain the similarities between the brain patterns of a typical individual.
With adults and children having autism, this social interaction component is exceedingly lacking, and hence their brain never get affected by the norms the human society considers natural. This raises the possibility that the brain of the autistic individual develops uniquely with myriad of connectivity patterns.
However, like most recent studies, the revelations of this study is far from conclusive. A lot more work needs to be done to understand the brain patterns and get to the root of what causes Autism.