Brains of People with Autism Focus More on Visual Skills

This means less activity in areas used for planning and decision making, but the brain adapts, researchers find

MONDAY, April 4 (HealthDay News) -- The brains of people with autism concentrate more resources in areas devoted to visual perception, resulting in less activity in areas used to plan and control thoughts and actions, says a new study.

The findings may explain why people with autism have exceptional visual abilities, said the researchers at the University of Montreal.

They analyzed data from 26 brain imaging studies that were conducted over 15 years and included a total of 357 autistic and 370 non-autistic participants.

"Through this meta-analysis, we were able to observe that autistics exhibit more activity in the temporal and occipital regions and less activity in frontal cortex than non-autistics," first author Fabienne Samson said in a university news release.

The temporal and occipital regions are involved in perceiving and recognizing patterns and objects, while the frontal areas are involved with decision making, cognitive control, planning and execution, she explained.

The findings offer the "first physiological confirmation that enhanced perceptual processing is a core feature of neural organization in this population," Dr. Laurent Mottron, of the university's Centre for Excellence in Pervasive Development Disorders, said in the news release. "We now have a very strong statement about autism functioning, which may be ground for cognitive accounts of autistic perception, learning, memory and reasoning."

According to the study, the finding shows that the autistic brain successfully adapts some of its cognitive functioning by reallocating brain areas to visual perception. The results may point the way to new areas of autism research.

The study appears April 4 in the journal Human Brain Mapping.

More information

The U.S. National Institute of Neurological Disorders and Stroke has more about autism.

Robert Preidt SOURCE: University of Montreal, news release, April 4, 2011

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