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The Sight and Sounds of Autism

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The numbers are shocking! One in 68 children will be diagnosed with autism.  These kids struggle with making friends, social interaction and communication.

We don't know what causes one child to have autism and the other not to but now researchers may have unlocked one key on what causes these kids to have these social problems.

Ask 16-year-old Austin Miller what it's like to live with Asperger's syndrome.

Austin Miller told Ivanhoe, "Generally I would describe having Asperger's syndrome as being like a computer that's running a different operating system than what most computers are running."

Diagnosed at age 12, his mom Karen says she's always noticed a delay in the way he processed speech.

Karen Miller told Ivanhoe, "I would say something to him and I would say, ‘Austin, did you?' and then he would start to answer. And so I learned I have to give him more time."

Now a new study is helping explain why. Headed up by doctor Mark Wallace, a team at Vanderbilt found what kids with autism see is out of sync with what they hear.

Mark Wallace, PhD, of Vanderbilt Brain Institute told Ivanhoe, "It's like a badly dubbed video is the way we describe it."

The timing of what they see and what they hear does not sync up.

Wallace told Ivanhoe, "We believe that change in the binding of visual and auditory information is sort of the foundation for the problems that they have in things like language, communication and social interactions."

That sounds about right to Austin.

Austin Miller told Ivanhoe, "I think I can see a couple memories where I'm talking to my dad and maybe his mouth just looks a little bit out of sync."

Researchers are building on that knowledge by testing a new interactive video game that's designed to retrain the brains of those with autism, focusing on how rewards help the brain.

Wallace said, "So it basically takes the tuning of the nervous system and shapes it, so that they get better."

The ultimate goal is to help kids like Austin communicate better.

This study also helps explain why some children with autism are often seen covering up their ears or eyes. It could be the delay in sight and sound that confuses them and makes them focus on one sense at a time.

BACKGROUND: Autism Spectrum Disorder (ASD) is a group of complex disorders of brain development. There is a large variety in the cases, some much more severe than others. Communication and social skills are effected the most, and intellectual disability as well as trouble with motor vehicles can occur as well. ASD is important to diagnose early. Early treatment of autism can drastically help improve social and language skills in the child.

(Source: http://www.webmd.com/brain/autism/autism-spectrum-disorders)  

STATISTICS ABOUT AUTISM: Autism Spectrum Disorder affects 1 percent of the population ages 3 to 17. This means that 1 in 68 babies born have autism. It is seen more often in boys than girls. This is also the fastest growing developmental disability. Only about 56 percent of students who have autism finish high school. Over a lifetime, it costs about 3.2 million dollars for a person with autism. 

(Source: http://www.autism-society.org/about-autism/facts-and-statistics/)

SIGNS OF AUTISM SPECTRUM DISORDER: While each child is different, the following seem to be the main themes found in the child's development, sometimes even since birth.

·         Social interaction

·         Communication: both verbal and non-verbal

·         Interests and behaviors

(Source: http://www.webmd.com/brain/autism/autism-spectrum-disorders)

ASBERGER'S SYNDROME: Asperger's Syndrome is very similar to autism in that they both cause trouble with communication. People with Asperger's however are often able to function better. This is because they usually have normal intelligence and almost normal language development. Like autism, there is a wide variety of levels of patients with Asperger's Syndrome. They are also seen having unusual rituals, repetitive or eccentric behaviors, a limited range of interests, coordination problems, and are often extremely gifted in a certain area like math or music. Like autism, the cause for Asperger's is unknown. It is more common than autism however and occurs anywhere from 1 in 250 to 1 in 10,000 children in the United States and Canada and is also 4 times more likely to occur in males.

(Source: http://www.webmd.com/brain/autism/mental-health-aspergers-syndrome

* For More Information, Contact:

Mark Wallace, PhD
Vanderbilt Brain Institute
Mark.wallace@vanderbilt.edu
(615) 936-6709

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