12:24am Thursday 23 November 2017

New research to turn autism on its head

Dr Skorich believes his findings have potential to impact the way we look for and treat autism. Image: Stuart Hay, ANU.

We’ve found preliminary evidence that the perceptual difficulties related to integrating information are what leads to the social difficulties.

A new study into autism by researchers at The Australian National University (ANU) could turn the way people think of the condition up-side-down.

While it is currently accepted that social and communication difficulties are the core element of the condition, the new research suggests that these issues may be the result of a difference in the way people with autism process information.

“It is diagnosed on the basis of social difficulties, such as problems with communicating with others,” said Dr Daniel Skorich, from ANU Research School of Psychology.

“But there are also perceptual issues. For example people with autism are more likely to process faces in terms of individual parts rather than as a whole.

“We’ve found preliminary evidence that the perceptual difficulties related to integrating information are what leads to the social difficulties.

“To derive meaning from stimuli you need to integrate information, and what we’ve shown is that this also applies to social understanding.”

Dr Skorich said the findings have the potential to impact the way we look for and treat autism.

“Seeing these two behavioural clusters as part of the same thing does shed new light which could have an impact on intervention and treatment. It could also provide a new understanding of what genetic markers to look for,” he said.

Dr Skorich also hopes the research could be used to further understanding of anxiety and depression.

“At the moment the anxiety and depression autistic people feel, which is often at a higher rate to others in the population, is seen to be a result of being disconnected from others. Our findings suggest that it may be deeper than that.”

The research has been published in the Journal of Autism and Developmental Disorders.


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