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Researchers find age relation to autism

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EAST PROVIDENCE – Newly released findings from Bradley Hospital published in the Journal of the American Academy of Child & Adolescent Psychiatry have found that autism spectrum disorders affect the brain activity of children and adults differently.

In the study, titled “Developmental Meta-Analysis of the Functional Neural Correlates of Autism Spectrum Disorders,” Dr. Daniel Dickstein, director of the Pediatric Mood, Imaging and Neurodevelopment Program at Bradley Hospital, found that autism-related changes in brain activity continue into adulthood.

“Our study was innovative because we used a new technique to directly compare the brain activity in children with autism versus adults with autism,” said Dickstein. “We found that brain activity changes associated with autism do not just happen in childhood, and then stop. Instead, our study suggests that they continue to develop, as we found brain activity differences in children with autism compared to adults with autism. This is the first study to show that.”

Among autism’s most disabling symptoms is a disruption in social skills, so it is noteworthy that this study found significantly less brain activity in autistic children than autistic adults during social tasks, such as looking at faces.

“Brain changes in the hippocampus in children with autism have been found in studies using other types of brain scan, suggesting that this might be an important target for brain-based treatments, including both therapy and medication that might improve how this brain area works,” Dickstein said.

Rowland Barrett, chief psychologist at Bradley Hospital was also part of the team leading the study.

“Autism spectrum disorders, including autistic disorder, Asperger’s disorder, and pervasive developmental disorder not otherwise specified, are among the most common and impairing psychiatric conditions affecting children and adolescents today,” said Barrett. “If we can identify the shift in the parts of the brain that autism affects as we age, then we can better target treatments for patients.”

Bradley Hospital, Journal of the American Academy of Child & Adolescent Psychiatry, Pediatric Mood, Imaging and Neurodevelopment Program at Bradley Hospital

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