A San Diego investigation team from SDS University’s Brain Development Imaging Laboratory are demonstrating the effects of autism on the brain and their implications.
The research team has pinpointed the connection between the thalamus, a structure necessary for motor and sensory functions, and the cerebral cortex, and how this connection is effects children living with autism spectrum disorders.
Led by SDSU’s doctoral program in clinical psych student, Aarti Nair, the study combines functional and anatomical magnetic resonance imaging (fMRI) techniques with diffusion tensor imaging (DTI) to visually demonstrate the relationship between the thalamus and cerebral cortex.
Nair and Dr. Ralph-Axel Müller, SDSU professor of psych and senior investigator, investigated over 50 children, both on the spectrum and off.
The brain’s thalamus is a critical structure, which plays roles in functions such as control of movement, attention, vision, and hearing. However, in children on the autism spectrum, pathways that connect the thalamus and cerebral cortex demonstrated poor communication. Because of this delayed development, many families rely on autism support groups to provide therapy.
"This impaired connectivity suggests that autism is not simply a disorder of social and communicative abilities, but also affects a broad range of sensory and motor systems," Müller commented.
The findings suggest that the current criteria for diagnosing autism fails to consider the full spectrum of problems children with autism deal with rather than focusing solely on social and communication impairment.