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New research may lead to better understanding of autism

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January 25, 2010
Autism
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New research may lead to better understanding of autism

In 2001, an experiment was done on 100 babies who were 24 hours old. The study wanted to see if there were certain differences between the male and female brains. The assumption to be tested was whether or not females are “predominately hard-wired for empathy” while male brains are” predominately hard-wired for understanding and building systems.” The results could be very helpful for the understanding and future treatment of autism.

During the test, each baby was presented with two items suspended above the crib: a human face and a mechanical mobile. The idea was to present a human face which is a natural object vs. the mobile which was a man-made object. To keep the sex of the baby unknown to the judges, only the eyes of each child were videotaped. This way, the panel focused solely on the length of time the baby looked at the mobile and the face.

The results were exciting. The boys looked longer at the mechanical mobile. The girls centered on the human face longer. At 24 hours, the impact of social experience is eliminated. The experiment showed that there are sex differences in empathy at birth. The study not only supported the evidence that females tend to have an advantage with empathizing over males. It also supported the research that males have more advantage in systemizing. (Simon Baron-Cohen, professor of Developmental Psychopathology and director of the Autism Research Centre at Cambridge University)

 this research for people with autism is that the study “may help us understand the childhood neurological conditions of autism and Asperger syndrome.” Though still early in research, the information supports the theory that people have different brain types. Some are more type E, or empathizing while others are more S systemizing. A third type would be a balanced brain, or B type. Neurologically, children with autism are in the extreme of systemizing. (Simon Baron-Cohen)

They also  discovered that the amount of eye contact is partly determined by “a biological factor: prenatal testosterone.” Further research is continuing on the levels of testosterone impacting the fetus’ development, along with environmental factors and genetics. Hopefully, these studies will lead to a better understanding of the human brain and how its early development may impact children with autism.

Very few girls are labeled autistic

Today, research is trying to determine what is typical and atypical for both females and males. The exciting part is that we are just beginning to understand what the extremes are for the female brain. We should never assume that females and males on the autism spectrum should look the same. There are gender differences including behavior and interests.

Using such tools as the Sally-Anne Test along with assessing over longer periods of time is essential in properly diagnosing girls who fall within the autism spectrum. Males currently represent the majority of children with autism. However, it is appears that girls are not fully accounted for in those figures. Females not properly diagnosed and treated at an early age often have severe problems later in life. These issues include depression, bullying and unhealthy social relationships due to their inability to understand social cues

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