Roberts' team monitored tiny magnetic fields produced by electrical impulses in the brain' of autistic and non-autistic children while listening to a battery of sounds and syllables. The brains of the autistic children were found to react between 20 and 50 percent slower to sounds than the brains of the non-autistic children.
Roberts indicated that the findings suggest a means of stratifying or classifying autism patients by severity and help sort out the genetic and environmental causes of autism:
In comparison to the tenth of a second response time in the brains of normal children in the study, the autistic children's brains were anywhere from 20 percent to 50 percent slower to react.
Since a single syllable in a multisyllable word might take less than one-quarter of a second to say, Roberts said 1/20th of a second extra delay in the response time of the brains of autistic children may hamper their ability to comprehend.
"There could be abnormal routing or a lack of connectivity in the brain," he said in a telephone interview. "It may be like a highway with traffic making it hard to get through."
He said it may also provide researchers with more clues to the causes of autism and help solve the dilemma of what is hereditary and what is environmental about the condition.
This study seems to me to represent a significant advance in our understanding of what are now called the Autism Spectrum disorders and another significant development in the Autism Knowledge Revolution.