Dr Martha Burns, Neuroscientist and speech Pathologist explains 4 of the latest research findings for 2015. These exciting findings highlight the brilliant work that is done by scientists all around the world, who continue to answer important questions about autism.
- Autism is in the genes.
Genes are critical to the development of neurons in the brain. Studies have identified, genes and genetic mutations that may contribute to ASD. Two studies have uncovered 60 genes that have a greater than 90 percent chance of contributing to ASD among 500 or more genes associated with ASDs overall.
More investigation is needed into the roles of these genes and how they affect the developing brain, however more data is emerging.
- Problematic brain pruning may contribute to ASD
What happens differently in the brains of children with ASD? Pruning is the process where a brain weeds out unimportant connections and strengths the important ones, based on experience.
In a recent report published in Neuron, the scientists reported that ASD may be associated with higher levels of a molecule that may impair the ability of brain cells to get rid of dysfunctional cell components.
- White matter fibre tracts differ in children with ASD
White matter tracts have been called the “superhighways of the brain” that transfer information through parts of the brain. Scientists have studied the development of white matter tracts in infants, that were later diagnosed with ASD. Their findings are that the trajectory of white matter development may be abnormal even a few months after birth in those who go on to be diagnosed with ASD. Basically, the superhighways of the brain are not working as efficiently in children diagnosed with ASD, as they are for typically developing children.
- Early Interventions help, and really do make a difference!
Researchers have also investigated whether early behavioral intervention changes brain functioning.
It has been reported “Children who completed the intervention had faster neural response and higher cortical activation when looking at faces compared to objects, and it was also associated with better social behaviour. Those who received treatments as usual, IE: a common community intervention, showed the opposite pattern.”