According to the National Autism Association, people with autism spectrum disorders (ASD) can experience sensory hypersensitivity. A University of Minnesota Medical School researcher recently published an article at Natural Communication which illustrates why that might be true by showing differences in perception of visual motion in ASD accompanied by weaker nerve suppression in the brain’s visual cortex.
While experts in neuroscience and psychiatry realizing that differences in sensory function are common among people with ASD, it is currently not understood what happens differently in the brain at the nerve level to cause variations in sensory perception.
Using functional MRI and visual assignments, lead author Michael-Paul Schallmo, PhD, assistant professor in the Department of Psychiatry at the U of M Medical School, and a research team at the University of Washington found:
- People with ASD show an increase in perception of greater stimulation of movement compared with neuro-typical individuals;
- The brain’s response to visual stimulation is different among young adults with ASD compared to people who have neuro-typical features. Specifically, brain response in the visual cortex shows less nerve suppression in ASD;
- Computational models can illustrate differences in brain response.
Our work shows that there may be differences in how people with ASD focus their attention on objects in the visual world that can explain differences in the neural responses we see and may be related to symptoms such as sensory hypersensitivity. “
Michael-Paul Schallmo, Ph.D., assistant professor in the Department of Psychiatry at the U of M Medical School
Schallmo is currently working with collaborators at the U of M on a follow-up study of visual and cognitive function in adolescents with ASD, Tourette’s syndrome, attention deficit hyperactivity disorder and obsessive-compulsive disorder. Having a better understanding of how these different disorders affect brain function can lead to new screening to better identify children at risk for ASD and related conditions. It can also help scientists find new targets for studies that seek to improve treatments for sensory symptoms in this disorder.
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