A new research effort combining 15 years of study has given scientists an understanding of why autistic individuals have an exceptional ability to recognize patterns and perceive visual objects.
Researchers believe people with autism concentrate more brain resources in the areas associated with visual detection and identification. In doing this, they have less activity in the areas used to plan and control thoughts and actions.
Researchers analyzed results from 26 independent brain imaging studies that looked at a total of 357 autistic and 370 non-autistic individuals.
“Through this meta-analysis, we were able to observe that autistics exhibit more activity in the temporal and occipital regions and less activity in the frontal cortex than non-autistics. The identified temporal and occipital regions are typically involved in perceiving and recognizing patterns and objects. The reported frontal areas subserve higher cognitive functions such as decision-making, cognitive control, planning and execution,” said first author Fabienne Samson, Ph.D.
“This stronger engagement of the visual processing brain areas in autism is consistent with the well-documented enhanced visuo-spatial abilities in this population,” Samson said.
The new findings suggest an autistic brain is organized differently, favoring the perceptual processes by which information is recorded the brain. As such, autistic individuals can perform some higher-level tasks.
“We synthesized the results of neuroimaging studies using visual stimuli from across the world. The results are strong enough to remain true despite the variability between the research designs, samples and tasks, making the perceptual account of autistic cognition currently the most validated model,” said Laurent Mottron, M.D.
“The stronger engagement of the visual system, whatever the task, represents the first physiological confirmation that enhanced perceptual processing is a core feature of neural organization in this population. We now have a very strong statement about autism functioning which may be ground for cognitive accounts of autistic perception, learning, memory and reasoning.”
Source: University of Montreal