Researchers at the University of Birmingham Alabama have identified a possible human cognitive mechanism based on autism spectrum disorder or ASD.
ASD diagnostics is still behavioral. Psychologists and medical professionals with clinical experience use an autistic diagnostic observation schedule and an autistic diagnostic interview to diagnose autism – these two tests are considered to be gold standards.
However, diagnosis can be a longer process due to a number of factors, including lack of resources and trained clinics. This prevents the diagnosis of autism by up to 5 years on average.
"In the ASD, two important research questions are: How can we reduce the delay in diagnosis and what kind of intervention can we give to a child?" Psychology Associate Professor Mākslas un žinnes koledža UAB. "Our findings mainly answer the first question, but if the learning outcomes can be repeated many times to gain external validity, they can also be used to find answers to the last question."
Using functional magnetic resonance imaging or fMRI, postdoctoral researcher Omar Maximo, Ph.D. and Kana studied 306 people aged 8 to 39 with 138 people in the ASD group and 168 individuals in a typical developing group. They looked at functional connectivity for synchronizing activity in different brain regions, two types of networks, unimodal and supramodal, cerebral cortex. The sub-cortical area has structures that receive inputs from and into the cortex and sensory organs, and play an important role in cognitive and social functions.
"Think of the brain network as a system of interconnected highways leading to towns – compounds of white matter will take you to different parts of the brain," said Maximo. "Unimodal areas are mainly involved in basic sensory processes, but supramodic regions – a collection of multiple brain regions – are responsible for higher cognitive processes."
Maximo and Cana discovered that the supramodynamic subcortical compounds of ASD individuals in unimododal-subortical compounds have too high connectivity and insufficient connectivity compared to the typical control group, suggesting a link between connectivity and ASD expression.
The study is unique, focusing on the subortical regions of the brain. "We are trying to find autistic signatures and why people with ASD have social and behavioral symptoms," said Kana. "As influenced by brain structure and function, we can understand why patients with ASD are different."
Finding biological markers in ASD, Kana says, can greatly help in early identification of individuals and initiate interventions such as cognitive behavioral therapy or the teaching of necessary social skills, ultimately linking sensors and higher cognitive sensory processes.