Key Brain 'Networks' May Differ in Autism
Neural systems tied to gauging social cues appear 'over-connected' in children with the disorder
Although the study could not prove cause and effect, these findings suggest that differences in this neurological "cross talk" might be linked with social impairments, Fishman said.
The research was supported by the U.S. National Institutes of Health and the Autism Science Foundation.
One expert who reviewed the study said the findings were preliminary but intriguing.
"There have been an enormous number of studies that have found differences [in brains of children with autism]," said Dr. Andrew Adesman, chief of developmental and behavioral pediatrics at the Cohen Children's Medical Center of New York in New Hyde Park, N.Y.
"The differences haven't always been consistent. We still don't yet understand what causes autism, nor do we have a great handle on how the brain of those with autism differs," he explained.
"What they found was that this excess connectivity is more common in those with more severe symptoms," Adesman said. However, "they are not sure if this is a chicken or egg [finding]."
The researchers agree, noting that they can't establish cause and effect. In essence, it's possible that the abnormal social development of children with an autism spectrum disorder may lead to the connectivity differences, they said, not the other way around.
Fishman said her team is planning further study, however. She said that if the findings are replicated, there might be a way to tweak the neural networks to bring them closer to that of children without an autism spectrum disorder.