People With Autism Better at Visual Tasks

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While people with autism have difficulties in social communication, they are often extremely good at visual tasks. Researchers with the University of Montreal have discovered that parts of the autistic brain is more active in areas that deal with visual detection and visual identification and less active in the areas that control decision making, planning and execution.

Dr. Laurent Mottron at the University of Montreal’s Centre for Excellence in Pervasive Development Disorders (CETEDUM) gathered 15 years’ worth of data, examining 26 different brain imaging studies that involved 727 individuals – 357 with autism and 370 without.

First author Fabienne Samson wrote that the team observed that autistic people exhibit more activity in the temporal and occipital regions of the brain and less activity in the frontal cortex than those without autism. The anterior part of the temporal lobe, located in the cerebral cortex, controls visual processing – object perception and recognition. The occipital lobe contains the primary visual cortex which receives and processes all of the information from the retina of the eyes.

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“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 wrote.

The researchers say that the brain of the person with autism is literally reorganized to favor perception processes. The back of the brain is more highly developed, they explain. This is the part that deals with processing what we see. The findings may help future research by focusing more on developmental brain plasticity and visual expertise in individuals with autism. This may also help devise new and effective ways of helping people live with autism until medical treatments can cure the condition.

The study appears April 4 in the journal Human Brain Mapping.

Journal Reference:
"Enhanced visual functioning in autism: An ALE meta-analysis"
Fabienne Samson, Laurent Mottron, Isabelle Soulières, Thomas A. Zeffiro
Human Brain Mapping DOI: 10.1002/hbm.21307

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