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How Does Autism Affect the Brain?

How Does Autism Affect the Brian?

Autism is a complex disorder, and every person with autism has their own unique set of challenges. Some people have trouble communicating and reading social cues, while others excel in areas that are difficult for “neurotypical” people. But how does autism affect the brain? 

Autism Affect Every Person Differently

Autism affects every person differently. While some people have trouble with their sensory needs, others may excel in areas that are difficult for “neurotypical” people. For example, many individuals with autism are very skilled at math and music. They’re able to excel at these skills because they can be trained in them. However, this may not be possible with other subjects that require social interactions.

Some individuals with autism have trouble interacting socially or communicating verbally, but their other senses are heightened to compensate for this deficit. This might explain why some people with autism spectrum disorder (ASD) have special skills such as echolocation or perfect pitch. They can use their hearing more effectively than the average person because it’s one of their senses that isn’t compromised by their disability.

Autism Brains May Develop More Slowly

Doctors know that certain parts of the brain grow faster during childhood. For example, a study published by the International Brain Research Organization found that the hippocampus – which is involved in memory and spatial navigation – grows more quickly in children than adults. However, they didn’t know where those parts develop slower or how they might be affected by autism.

The brain is still developing in adolescence. Due to this, it makes sense that parts of the brain would develop differently in children and young adults with autism than they do in typically developing children and young adults.

Several parts of the brain develop more slowly in children and young adults with autism than in typically developing children and young adults. These include areas that are involved with social cognition (how we think about other people), face processing (recognizing faces), and perceptual reasoning (the ability to analyze information from our senses to make sense of what we’re seeing or hearing).

Those With Autism Often Have Difficulties Processing Senses Correctly

Some people with autism have difficulty processing sensory information. This can make it hard for them to understand what is going on around them, leading to anxiety and confusion. It’s also why people with autism may have a need for routines and rituals. Their brains are receiving incorrect signals from their senses. As a result, they need something familiar in order to feel safe and secure.

The inability of someone with autism’s brain to process information correctly can make it difficult for them to understand social cues as well. This can lead them into awkward situations that might otherwise be avoided by someone without autism.

Inappropriate Responses

Even if someone with autism can understand what you’re saying, they might not respond quickly or appropriately. People with autism may be unable to process the information and formulate a response due to any one of the following reasons:

  • They’re distracted by something else.
  • They’re overwhelmed by the situation or your requests.
  • They are trying to figure out how to respond, which can take longer than other people because they have trouble with social cues and concepts like politeness, personal space, body language, etc. This means that their responses can come across as rude or off-putting.
  • They don’t understand what you’re saying.

As mentioned above, inappropriate responses are not because people with autism lack intelligence. However, this occurs because their brains work differently from people without autism.

Brain Scans Have Taught Us a Lot

Recent research has shown that the brains of people with autism are different from other people’s brains. They tend to have an enlarged amygdala and hippocampus, two areas associated with emotion processing. The corpus callosum, which connects the right and left hemispheres of your brain, is smaller in individuals with autism than in those who are not on the spectrum. 

In addition, scientists have observed that there are more neurons in a part of your brain called the prefrontal cortex, which is also linked to emotions. There’s also evidence that glia cells – cells involved in support rather than computation – are more prevalent in the brains of people with autism than they are in those who aren’t on the spectrum.

Autism and Sensory Processing Disorder

Many people have also heard of another disorder that’s common among people with autism: sensory processing disorder (SPD). This is a condition where the brain doesn’t register or process sensations like touch, temperature, and sound in the same way as it normally would.

Because SPD can make life difficult, it can be treated with therapy or medication. However, it’s not always easy to get diagnosed with SPD by your doctor because they might not know how to spot it. Due to this, people who believe they may have SPD should try consulting with a specialist.

We still have so much to learn about autism. In the future, we can expect to see more research on how autism affects the brain. We still have a lot to learn about what causes the condition in the first place and why it affects some people more than others. At Acera Health, we offer autism treatment. Autism treatment helps those on the spectrum find relief from symptoms that may impact daily living and quality of life. If you or someone you know is in need of support with a family member with autism, reach out to Acera Health for more information on our services. Call us today at (949) 647-4090

LMFT, Program Director at Acera Health | Edited & Medically Reviewed

Melody is a highly skilled proactive clinical administrator, with more than 17 years of experience serving the community in the behavioral health field.

Her clinical management career started in 2011 as a compliance manager and program director. In 2018, she became an executive as chief clinical officer (CCO). She is a seasoned licensed marriage & family therapist.


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