Friday, 15 April 2011
I was lucky to be able to spend some time on the phone with Dr. Manuel F. Casanova, Associate Chair of Research at the University of Louisville. They have been conducting some promising research that will have a direct impact on how we view and treat autism. Dr. Casanova did his best to explain some of it to me in terms that I could understand.
One study has shown that individuals with autism have a defect in the basic building blocks of the cortex, a structure called minicolumns. This defect manifest itself as cortical hyperexcitability and could provide an explanation to the seizures observed in some autistic patients. Another study has shown that the prefrontal lobes of autistic individual are usually active regardless of activating stimuli. This area of the brain provides for what has been called a “sketch pad memory.” This type of memory organizes plans of actions into different steps. The findings could explain why autistic individually have a strong need to follow an exact schedule, and deviations from the same may cause tantrums.
Another study shows that autistic individuals have an abnormality in higher brain frequencies. These frequencies are used to flag down different areas of the brain as they work together. This may help explain why it is difficult for autistic individuals to recognize a face, e.g., they are unable to integrate disparate areas of the brain as they process information related to color of the eyes, symmetry of the face, emotional significance of a smile, etc.