Children with autism spectrum disorder may show signs of impaired social interactions, decreased verbal and nonverbal communication, repetitive behavior patterns and difficulty in processing sensory information (Jacquart, 2009). Autism Spectrum disorder effects an individuals ability to communicate and interact at a normal developmental level. It may also impair an individual’s ability to relate or feel empathy for someone else. It is also very common for a child with ASD to have difficulty showing eye contact when talking or being talked to (Jacquart, 2009). Often times a child with ASD will show repetitive behaviors, an example of this would be drawing a “never ending” circle. A child with ASD will often times show developmental delays by 18 months, but many parents do not seek help or diagnosis until 2 years or more.
According to research conducted by Courchesne, Carper, and Akshoomoff (2003) there are 4 stages of brain growth that occur in children with ASD. These four stages are; undergrowth, rapid growth, slowing of brain growth, and a decline in brain size (Courchesne, et.al., 2003). Children with ASD, according to Courchesne, et.al (2003) at birth children with ASD have a slight undergrowth of brain size in comparison to a normally developing child. In the first year of life their brain goes through a rapid overgrowth, which slows for the for the next 2-4 years. The last phase of brain growth in a child with ASD is a decline in brain size which lasts from late childhood, into adulthood (Courchesne et.al., 2003). Although this research was conducted on 48 children with ASD, they retrieved information from non-ASD children’s medical history. There has also been very little done about this aspect of the brain, but if continued research can further support this idea, we may be able to diagnose at an earlier age.
There were many researchers who believed that dysfunction in the frontal lobe may be the cause of some shown characteristics of ASD (Carper & Courchesne, 1999). However, there has been very little research done to support this idea. The Cerebellar Cortex however, has had much research conducted on it. According to Carper and Courchesne (1999), in 20 post-mortem cases that they researched, 18 showed abnormalities in the cerebellar cortex. In other research done on the brain of a ASD child, they found that they have a smaller corpus callosum (Manes, Piven, Vrancic, Nanclares, Plebst, & Starkstein, 1999), as well as a localized dysfunction in the temporal lobes (Zilbovicius, Boddaert, Belin, Poline, Remy, Mangin, Thivard, Barthelemy, & Samson, 2000). Children with ASD also tend to show a higher cerebral volume than that of a typically developing child and a developmentally delayed child (Sparks, Friedman, Shaw, Aylward, Echelard, Artru, Maravilla, Giedd, Dawson, & Dager, 2002). Although there has been research done on different parts of the brain, none that I found were based on the same area of the brain and showed little additional research on these areas.
Researchers have also looked at how parts of the brain in a child with ASD communicate when compared to that of a typically developing child. Several neuroimaging studies show that there is a lower degree of coordination among activated brain areas in a child with autism (Just, M.A., Cherkassky, V.L., Keller, T.A., Kana, R.K., & Minshew, N.J., 2006). In a study done on sentence comprehension researchers found that the brain activity of an autistic child was less synchronized across activated brain areas than that of a typical developing child (Just, et.al., 2006). The lack of connectivity in these areas could be the cause of a child with ASD’s inability to communicate with other individuals, as well as being able to process information. This connectivity may vary depending upon the severity of the child’s ASD. According to Mostofsky, S.H., Powell, S.K., Simmonds, D.J., Goldberg, M.C., Caffo, B., & Pekar, J.J. (2009) children with high functioning autism (HFA) showed a decrease in connectivity across the motor network than that of a typically developing child. The decrease in connectivity could be the cause of children with ASD showing a delay in motor activity in the first year or two of life. Even with all of this research that has been done on brain connectivity, researchers have yet to find how the decrease in connectivity is affecting the brain of an ASD child.
Researchers Lee, M, Ruiz, C.M., Graham, A., Court, J., Jaros, E., Perry, R., Iversen, P., Bauman, M., & Perry, E., (2002) noticed a decrease of the cerebellar nicotinic receptor subunit in autistic children, which they believe relates to the decrease of a specific cell in the cerebellar cortex. The tests’ also showed a decrease in high affinity nicotinic receptor binding in the cerebellum of the autistic group as well (Lee, et.al., 2002). Lee, et.al. (2002) stated that when looking at the role of the nicotinic receptors “it may be worth considering the effects of nicotine administration (e.g. as patches) on attention performance in autism”. In other words they are looking at the possible use of nicotine, in a patch form, to help with the attention span of an autistic patient. However, if this rings true and works for people with autism, will children be allowed the use of these patches and what harm would it do to a child, if any? Could this change the way that people look at nicotine products? There is still so much research that would need to be done to support this idea.
Parent’s, caretakers, and pediatricians have the responsibility of being aware of any delays that are occurring in a child’s development, as well as signs or symptoms. Some signs that parents should be aware of are language delays, withdrawals from friends, doesn’t respond to eye contact, loud noises do not startle them, withdrawal from physical contact, short attention span, strong need for “sameness” or routine, as well as other signs (Jacquart, 2009). Parent’s should be aware of the developmental milestone time frames and be concerned when their child doesn’t meet these within the timeframe. According to Jacquart (2009) early detection is crucial in helping a child succeed later in life and to avoid this disorder affecting their development as little as possible.
Researchers will continue in trying to find a cause and a solution to ASD. They will continue looking at how the brain in an ASD child differs and how it may be affecting their memory. For not all we can do is keep parents knowledgeable on this disorder and hope that one day we can find a way to detect it earlier and help these children to grow up as “normal” as possible.
Asd Slide Show
Difficulty with social interactions
Decrease in verbal and nonverbal
4 stages of brain growth
› Rapid overgrowth
› Slowing of brain growth
› Decline in brain size
› How ASD affects the Brain
› Early detection
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