Study provides evidence that autism affects functioning of entire brain

A recent study provides evidence that autism affects the functioning of virtually the entire brain, and is not limited to the brain areas involved with social interactions, communication behaviors, and reasoning abilities, as had been previously thought. The study, conducted by scientists in a research network supported by the National Institutes of Health (NIH), found that autism also affects a broad array of skills and abilities, including those involved with sensory perception, movement, and memory.

The findings, appearing in the August Child Neuropsychology, strongly suggest that autism is a disorder in which the various parts of the brain have difficulty working together to accomplish complex tasks.

The study was conducted by researchers in the Collaborative Program of Excellence in Autism (CPEA), a research network funded by two components of the NIH, the National Institute of Child Health and Human Development and the National Institute on Deafness and Other Communication Disorders.

"These findings suggest that further understanding of autism will likely come not from the study of factors affecting one brain area or system, but from studying factors affecting many systems," said the director of NICHD, Duane Alexander, M.D.

People with autism tend to display 3 characteristic behaviors, which are the basis of the diagnosis of autism, explained the study's senior author, Nancy Minshew, M.D., Professor of Psychiatry and Neurology at the University of Pittsburgh School of Medicine. These behaviors involve difficulty interacting socially, problems with verbal and non-verbal communications, and repetitive behaviors or narrow, obsessive interests. Traditionally, Dr. Minshew said, researchers studying autism have concentrated on these behavioral areas.

Within the last 20 years, however, researchers began studying other aspects of thinking and brain functioning in autism, discovering that people with autism have difficul

Contact: Robert Bock or Marianne Glass Miller
NIH/National Institute of Child Health and Human Development

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