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Recent autism research has developed a theory explaining brain changes associated with autism spectrum disorder (ASD). A new study demonstrates that individuals with ASD display different patterns of brain connectivity than neurotypical individuals, and that these patterns mechanically alter as the individual ages.

Lucina Uddin, assistant professor of Psychology at the University of Miami (UM) College of Arts & Sciences and author of the study, excitedly explained,

“Our findings suggest that developmental stage must be taken into    account to accurately build models that show how the brains of individuals with autism differ from neurotypical individuals…We believe that taking a developmental approach to examining brain connectivity in autism is critical for predicting response to treatment in young children with ASD.”

To begin to make meaning of the results of this study, it must be known that our brain is made up of more than one trillion cells called neurons. These neurons interact with one another to form complex signaling networks. Previous studies have found patterns of hypo-connectivity, (meaning reduced connectivity in the brain) and hyper-connectivity, (meaning excessively increased connectivity in the brain) in individuals with ASD.

This new study, “Developmental Changes in Large-Scale Network Connectivity in Autism,” explains these clashing results by demonstrating that the developmental stage of an individual plays a crucial role in the findings.

Key findings of the study include:

  • Children ages 7 to 11with ASD, exhibit hyper-connectivity within large-scale brain networks, as well as decreased betweennetwork connectivity, when compared to neurotypical children.
  • Adolescents of ages 11 to 18 with ASD do not differ in within network connectivity, but have a decrease in betweennetwork connectivity, when compared to neurotypical adolescents.
  • Adults older than 18 years of age with ASD show neither within or betweennetwork differences in functional connectivity when compared with neurotypical adults.

The study suggests that changes in the networks of the brain’s cortex may trigger the complex behavioral characteristics observed in individuals with ASD. Furthermore, Jason S. Nomi, postdoctoral fellow in the Department of Psychology at UM and lead author of the study, explained, “This study helps us understand the functional organization of brain networks and how they change across the lifespan in autism.”

To learn more about mental development and autism spectrum disorder, or if you or a loved one is seeking help for any mental health illness, contact Capitol Care at their New Jersey department of mental health for a confidential discussion.

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