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Brains of people with autism recall letters of the alphabet in brain areas dealing with shapes

In contrast to people who do not have autism, people with autism remember letters of the alphabet in a part of the brain that ordinarily processes shapes, according to a study from a collaborative program of the National Institute of Child Health and Human Development of the National Institutes of Health.

The study was conducted by researchers in the NICHD Collaborative Program of Excellence in Autism (CPEA) at the University of Pittsburgh and Carnegie Mellon University. It supports a theory by CPEA scientists that autism results from a failure of the various parts of the brain to work together. In autism, the theory holds, these distinct brain areas tend to work independently of each other. The theory accounts for observations that while many people with autism excel at tasks involving details, they have difficulty with more complex information.

The study and the theory are the work of Marcel Just, Ph.D., Professor of Psychology at Carnegie Mellon University in Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania and Nancy Minshew, M.D., Professor of Psychiatry and Neurology at the University of Pittsburgh School of Medicine and their colleagues.

The study is scheduled for on-line publication November 29 in the journal Neuroimage, at http://www.sciencedirect.com.

"This finding provides more evidence to support a promising theory of autism," said Duane Alexander, M.D., Director of the NICHD. "If confirmed, this theory suggests that therapies emphasizing problem solving skills and other tasks that activate multiple brain areas at the same time might benefit people with autism."

People with autism typically have difficulty communicating and interacting socially with others. The old saying "unable to see the forest for the trees" applies to people with autism, describing how many of them excel at matters of detail, yet struggle to comprehend the larger picture. For example, some c
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Contact: Marianne Glass Miller or Bob Bock
301-496-5133
NIH/National Institute of Child Health and Human Development
29-Nov-2004


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