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Autism Spectrum Disorders Health Center

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Out-of-Sync Brain May Be a Clue to Autism

Study Shows Toddlers With Autism Have Abnormal Synchronization in Brain's Communication Area

Coordination of Brain's Tasks continued...

The abnormal synchronization was evident in 70% of those with autism. However, just a handful of the other children had it.

The researchers also found that the weaker the synchronization, the more severe the communication problems for the autistic children.

This suggests that the poor synchronization is found at the earliest stages of the disorder and could be linked to the severity, the researchers say.

If the findings bear out, earlier diagnosis may be possible, Dinstein says. That would make earlier intervention possible, of course.

It's possible that the reduced synchronization is a by-product of something else causing the autism, he says. ''The fact that this phenomenon is evident in 70% of kids [with autism] does not mean it is the biology causing the autism," he says. "There could be a different biological mechanism causing both the autism and the reduced synchronization."

However, even if the the abnormality is a by-product of something else causing the condition, he says, that would still be useful information for making a diagnosis.

Typically, a child is age 3 or older before a diagnosis of autism is made, he says.

Connection Failure in the Brain

The study reinforces some research and breaks some new ground, according to Geraldine Dawson, PhD, chief science officer for Autism Speaks. She reviewed the report but did not participate in the research.

"Some have described autism as a 'developmental disconnection syndrome' because several studies have found that there is a failure of long-range connectivity between different brain regions in autism," she says. "This helps explain why people with autism have trouble with complex behaviors, such as social interaction and language, which require coordinated activity across several brain regions."

It is the first study, she believes, ''to show reduced functional connectivity in very young children with autism." The study, she says, suggests this abnormality is an early characteristic of the disorder. It helps explain some symptoms seen early on, she says. "Even early gestures and social games require coordinated activity among several brain regions."

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