Monday, April 13, 2009

Neurological Differences

Heightened Level Of Amygdala Activity May Cause Social Deficits In Autism
ScienceDaily (2009-03-24) -- An increased pattern of brain activity in the amygdalas of adults with autism that may be linked to the social deficits that typically are associated with the disorder. Previous research has shown that abnormal growth patterns in the amygdala are commonly found among young children diagnosed with autism. ... > read full article

"This is another piece of evidence that there is something wrong with the amygdala in autism that contributes to social impairment. These results help refine our understanding of functional abnormalities in autism and are a new way of thinking about social dysfunction in autism," said Kleinhans'

I prefer differences rather tham abnormality. However, there is a striking difference between people with autism in regards to the amygdala and social interaction.


The Amygdala and Autism
by Kristina Chew
Published March 25, 2009 @ 02:15PM PST
Numerous articles about autism research in neuroscience, genetics, and other fields are regularly published. Some of them are presented in press releases and news articles, often with some indication of how the research might contribute to the creation of new treatments (such as medications) for those with autism. I turn to these studies principally to learn a bit more about how things are for Charlie; about why some of his struggles seem to arise "out of the blue" and for reasons that aren't immediately explainable.
The American Journal of Psychiatry has recently published a study about autism and hyperactivity and overarousal in the amygdala, an almond-shaped structure of the human brain that is linked with a person's mental and emotional states. In studying 19 individuals with autism and 20 adults who were not on the spectrum, researchers from the University of Washington found that, when looking at a series of human faces, "..... brain activation in adults with autism remains elevated long after similar brain regions of typically developed adults have stopped being activated," as noted in Science Daily. Further:
The amygdala is popularly associated with the "fight-or-flight response" in dangerous situations. But it has other functions, including identifying faces and situations and evaluating social information such as emotions.
The new research shows that brain activation in adults with autism remains elevated long after similar brain regions of typically developed adults have stopped being activated when exposed to a series of pictures of human faces. A decrease in activation over time to the same type of information is called neural habituation and is connected with learning, according to Natalia Kleinhans, lead author of the new study and a UW research assistant professor of radiology.
............................."If you consider that habituation reflects learning in as simple a task as looking at a face, slowness to habituate in people with autism may contribute even more markedly to difficulty with more complex social interactions and social cognition. If the brain is not reacting typically to a static face with a neutral expression, you can imagine how difficult it may be for someone with autism to pick up more subtle social cues."
It's this noting of "hyperarousal" and overactivation in response to "socially relevant stimuli" that draws my attention. Sometimes it seems that there are only extremes to things with Charlie. One moment no one could be happier, more excited, jumping up and down and all huge smiles; the next, he might be down on the ground wailing and miserable. Sometimes we use the word "mood swings" to explain these, but I've wondered if something else might be afoot----that there's some connections that aren't happening, that are taking too long too happen, that happen too suddenly and all at once.
We actually are taking Charlie to a different neurologist today. His current neurologist----whom we have seen for so long and with whom all three of us have a good rapport----is wonderful. But we've felt that we have to keep looking into everything for Charlie and, in particular, to look more closely at his medications and the potential effects of the changes brought with adolescence.
Last night I worked my way through the 17-page new patient form and dug out old reports, behavior intervention plans, and IEPs and reviewed them: A lot of paperwork on this kid, that's for sure and yet how little we still know and seek to learn in whatever ways possible---you never can stop trying


Maggie May said...

fascinating. really. not that i always understand all of it, but when i read about how the brain works i am awestruck.

Chaos and love said...

I agree. I think that is what partially draws me into this profession.