In a new study released yesterday, researchers at UCLA determined that areas in the brain that are associated with social behavior were less developed and lacked sufficient networking in high functioning Autistic Spectrum Disorder (ASD) individuals as compared to their neurotypical peers.
The study noted that ASD subjects showed an increased blood flow in the frontal areas of the brain which is linked to higher oxygen metabolism in those parts of the brain that are used to navigate social situations. This is opposite of individuals not on the spectrum whose blood flow is reduced as they mature. According to scientists increased blood flow suggests that in persons with ASD there is delayed neurodevelopment in these front areas of the brain that are responsible for social-emotional cognition. The study is consistent with MRI findings of enlarged brain size due to a lack of pruning as the brain develops.
The study also found a lack of long-range connections between the front of the brain and the back. This apparent lack of connectivity means that information is impaired between distant areas of the brain leading to a decreased social responsiveness in persons with ASD.
Researchers hope that in utilizing information gleaned from this study that in the future scientists may contribute to developing an even earlier way to diagnosis and perhaps treatment ASD. And that would be great for families who have young children and are just starting down this long and often challenging road. Because if I am completely honest, and I could have given my sons pills to alter their autism so that social-emotional dealings would have been easier for them their entire life; I would have done it in a minute. For as a mother you don’t like to see your child suffer by being the outcast, being teased, being rejected and being bullied day in and day out. Sometimes the lengths to which people will go to hurt and embarrass others are just mind-blowing. Never mind having to fit in with the other kids, ASD kids often are surrounded by adults who unintentionally/intentionally contribute to their ostracism and loss of self-esteem leading to a high rate of suicide in this segment of the population.
Yet, at some point as people with ASD mature they come to recognize what is unique and wonderful within themselves and these future “treatments” no longer appear to be the miracles that they might be considered to be when a child is two years old. Both of my sons say they are happy being who they are, autism and all. Both do not see a “miracle” pill being part of their lives. And I am happy that they feel that way but as their mother also know that no child or family should have to go through what they have gone through to get where they are now. I find nothing noble in suffering and my children were not put on this earth to be the moral compass and recipients of those without ASD practicing their seven virtues to buy their way into heaven. So while I welcome advances in ASD medicine, I will do so on the side lines. But I will cheer on and support those parents of the future who may be presented with opportunities to change the lives of their children in ways that are most likely for the better. For everyone deserves to be able to reach their full-potential which is something many with ASD are denied.