Weaker Brain Connections In Autistic Children May Explain Communication Problems

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A new study suggests that some children with autism have weak brain connections in regions that link speech with emotional rewards, possibly explaining why children with autism often display an insensitivity to human speech.

The study, which has been published in the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences, used magnetic resonance imaging brain scans of 20 children with a high-functioning type of autism and compared them to scans of 19 children without autism. The high-functioning children all had normal range IQs and could speak and read, but had a hard time in conversation or understanding emotional cues, as reported by the Herald-Sun.

The researchers found that brains of the patients with autism displayed poor connections in the parts of the brain which release dopamine in response to rewards. They also noticed that weaker connections correlated with less advanced communication abilities.

“Weak brain connectivity may impede children with autism from experiencing speech as pleasurable,” explained Vinod Menon, senior author of the study and professor of psychiatry and behavioral sciences at Stanford University.

The findings are also noticeable for validating the theory that people with autism deal with a deficit in social motivation that explains their inattention to voices and words instead of a sensory disorder that prevents them from hearing words.

Lead author Daniel Abrams, stated, “we are the first to show that this insensitivity may originate from impaired reward circuitry in the brain.”

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