Advancements in medical imaging have allowed scientists to discover new insights into how autistic brains work. These interesting findings help us better understand how and why autistics think differently from non-autistics and give us insights about how to better teach and play with autistic children.
One recent important study was performed by researchers at the University of Montreal. They analyzed 15 years of human brain imaging studies comparing hundreds of autistic and non-autistic people. The study–which the United Kingdom’s National Autistic Society and various autism experts view as significant–contains 4 interesting findings about how the brains of autistic people are wired differently from people without autism.
Key finding 1: The part of the brain that processes visual information is more highly developed in autistic people compared to non-autistics.
This finding reaffirms that autistics tend to learn and take in information best in a visual form, and also suggests new avenues for teaching and communicating with them outside of the normal ways we do with non-autistic children. By understanding how autistics best think and learn, we can work with their special abilities when teaching them rather than working against these abilities. For example, using picture cards and videos can be a better way to introduce new learning concepts to them than lectures.
Key finding 2: Autism can be thought of as a reorganization of the brain to favor perception processes that record information in the brain.
Instead of viewing autism as something negative we should view autism as a fundamentally different way of arranging the brain to favor different thinking and sensory processes than other people. This explains why autistics often have amazing memorization abilities yet have difficulties performing things we take for granted such as recognizing faces. It also emphasizes why people with autism can be overly sensitive to certain sensations, and helps explain why they have to do certain things to cope with the ways they experience the world. Some might need to be in calm and quiet places to feel relaxed (similar to famed autistic Temple Grandin’s experiences), while others may need to escape by immersing themselves in art, music, or math.
Key finding 3: Compared to non-autistics, autistics have more activity in the parts of the brain involved in recognizing patterns and objects.
This finding reaffirms why autistics are often so good at things that require logic and can become obsessed with stacking and arranging things in certain ways. By recognizing their love for pattern recognition and logic, we can work with their strengths to help steer them into activities and jobs that best utilize their special abilities without being handicapped by things they have trouble doing.
Key finding 4: Compared to non-autistics, autistics have less activity in the frontal cortex, which is responsible for higher-level thought functions such as decision making, cognitive control, planning, and execution.
This finding helps explain why autistics can express behaviors that include temper tantrums, anger outbursts, and compulsive behaviors. It reminds us that we can’t expect autistics to make decisions like non-autistic children and that we should shape their childhood environment and activities to keep them safe and in control.
Do these findings make sense to you? Do you think these studies tell us anything we didn’t know already? What directions would you like autism researchers to study in the future? Please comment away.