Monday, December 01, 2008

Slower to React: Comprehension and Slower Brain Reaction To Sounds In Autistic Children

A study conducted by Timothy Roberts and the Department of Radiology at Children's Hospital of Philadelphia, using a technique known as MEG, or magnetoencephalography, has found that the brains of autistic children react a fraction of a second slower to sounds that the brains of non-autistic children. This finding may explain communication and comprehension problems associated with autism. It also appears to confirm the theory that autism arises from under connectivity in the brain.

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."

"We think this (delay) is a signature or a biomarker that could be used to stratify autism patients," since autism is a spectrum of disorders that afflicts people to vastly different degrees, he said.


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.

As a matter of my personal belief, this study seems to make sense of some of my verbal interaction with my son Conor, who is diagnosed with Autistic Disorder, and assessed with profound developmental delays. His slow response to speech is noticeable even without the sophisticated monitoring and measuring employed in this study. It might also explain why he seems to lack comprehension of speech but can figure out how to manipulate a computer and find what he wants eg. Pinky Dinky Doo, O Canada YouTube videos, with little difficulty.

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.

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1 comment:

Anonymous said...

Tom (my older son) and I both have difficulties with talking, albeit for different reasons. Tom's reason sounds very similar to the one you describe, it's as though he hears the words as though they're spoken in a foreign language. His understanding has improved, but he is still severely delayed and often relies a lot on his very good memory to recall responses when he can answer. We use Makaton along side the verbal speech to help him understand and it's brilliant at helping him, both in terms of his understanding and communication. He also often has a delay in responding even when he knows the answers.
Very rarely (about twice a month or twice a day depending on how things are going) I also lose understanding of words, but it's so infrequent as for that aspect to not affect me. What does affect me is that very very frequently (as in every day but not all the time) I have perfect understanding but can not initiate talking or reply a lot of the time, at least not immediately. This isn't just a social shyness situation, it means not being able to talk to my husband, not being able to ask for help, not being able to order something in a shop until the shopkeeper asks if I want something, not being able to ask someone to move out of the way. It's as though my mind is so busy thinking about doing the action it doesn't tell my body to actually do it. It also means I often have a delay or an absence in physically reacting, eg my husband will point something out to me and I'll not turn to look at it, even though I want to. Will stress that it's not all the time it affects me, but enough to impact upon my life significantly. Things are better as an adult only because I now have more independence than when I was younger, so can now do/get most things myself.
Tom can get around the computer very well as well. He likes Pinky Dinky Doo also, though personally I can't stand it.