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Autism Changes With Age, Study Finds


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New research suggests that autism affects the brain differently as individuals with the developmental disorder age, a finding that may allow for a more targeted treatment approach.

Using a new technique, researchers were able to directly compare the brain activity of kids and adults with autism. They found marked differences in brain activity depending on a person’s age.

“We found that brain activity changes associated with autism do not just happen in childhood and then stop,” said Daniel Dickstein of Brown University and Bradley Hospital who led the study published this month in the Journal of the American Academy of Child & Adolescent Psychiatry. “Instead, our study suggests that they continue to develop… This is the first study to show that.”

For the study, Dickstein and his colleagues looked at functional magnetic resonance imaging, or fMRI, brain scans that were conducted on children and adults with autism in previous studies. They found evidence of significantly more activity occurring in the minds of adults with autism as compared to children when the individuals were looking at faces and doing other social tasks, for example.

The finding could have big implications for how autism is treated, researchers said.

“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 with ASD,” said Rowland Barrett, chief psychologist at Bradley Hospital, who worked on the study.

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Comments (17 Responses)

  1. jennifer says:

    This is the first study I have read about in a while that actually may BENEFIT the Autism community!

  2. Tacitus says:

    So they’ve finally figured out that we grow up. What is wrong with these people?

  3. Chaoschrist says:

    While I don’t argue the brain changes over time, one can wonder if the brain changes for the better.

    Over years, my behaviour has become more prevalent. So yes, it changes, but some might argue I display more autistic traits now then I did as a kid.

    Though maybe society demands different things from me compared to when I was a kid, which is more likely and holds up if you take in consideration people grow up in a legal sense and are more responsible for things they might actually, based on their autistic brain aren’t really aware of and therefore “thrown in the deep”.

  4. kath says:

    as Tacitus says: everybody gets older, wiser etc, and as chaoschrist points out for better or worse – lets tweek an typical person’s brain so they ‘get it’

  5. Aspergirl says:

    Have they stopped to think that the increased adult brain activity is actually due to having to make such a concerted effort to analyse situations and socialising etc., not because they have mastered the intuitive level of such things as other people do.

  6. 2ontheSpectrum says:

    Finally, something that might make people understand that treatment for autism should not stop at 8 years old!

  7. Sonja Luchini says:

    Another study that we must pay for to access. It is frustrating to see that studies funded by the National Institute of Mental Health (a government institution funded with our tax dollars) are given to a private institution that then charges the public to see results of what we paid for.

    We, as parents, could have told these academics that “autism specific” brain activity does not change as our children age. It’s an organic brain disorder – not a temporary condition. It’s hard to comment on this non-article as there is little information to discuss, counter or agree with. What are the “facts” relating to what they’ve “discovered”? How will this help us?

    I get so tired of these postings of snippets of “sound bites” that are meaningless without access to the full study for us to learn from or discuss in the community.

    As all children grow, there are hormonal changes, behavior changes and other factors that would cause brain activity conditions to alter. With our children diagnosed with autism, we must also factor in whether or not therapies – what types and how often performed – may have been involved. Not seeing the study, knowing whether these factors are considered in their conclusions makes for an empty and useless bit of “infomation” that does little or nothing to inform the public.

  8. PDDNOSmom says:

    @sonja. I couldn’t agree with you more about access to the actual articles. Since it is clear that most of the average treating doctors and providers of services and lawmakers, don’t read these articles unless pointed out by parents, advocates, and self advocates, I think that the only other people who possibly read them are other researchers and then by the time the information may seep into the mainstream of treatment and support, they are outdated and something new has been found.

  9. Tim says:

    Did anyone else check the link??? I don’t think they are talking about normal development. From the link, this study seems to be suggesting that the effects of Autism can change with age. Notices that they point out the brain in adults with Autisim responds with signicantlyu more nero-activity realitive to age then in children. Wonder how we can apply this to help people living with autism?

  10. Nick'sMom says:

    The most intelligent post on this site from “2ontheSpectrum”. Thank you!

  11. Mary MacDougall says:

    I disagree with PDDNOS mom. As an SLP who is dedicated to helping individuals with Autism Spectrum Disorders I soak up most “snippets” or articles like a sponge, & often look deeper into them.
    ASDs, as is all of life, are very complex. Most professionals & doctors often have a specialty, as well as particular areas of interest & passion; please do not color us all with the same brush, or discount us a useless.
    Brains can change for the better or worse; again, the reasons are complex & infinite.
    I might add that you are lucky that so many of us ignore the slings & arrows, & keep on trying (& sometimes succeeding!) in helping. ALthough I do not have any immediate family members with these “conditions/syndromes”, as a working professional it has been on my radar screen for a long time, along with a whole host of other serious conditions. I continue to spend a great deal of personal time expense & space on attending trainings, & buying materials & resources. Most families become interested when it affects them *personally*. How many of you ever know that special education was signed into federal law in 1975???? Probably not until you became a “customer”. Just my “2 cents worth”!
    I do wish that we as taxpayers could access the articles for free; (although we probably can if we care to visit a medical or university library!).

  12. Joanna says:

    It looks like it’s the Journal that the study is published in that is doing the charging – which is probably how they stay in business. If you want to get access to the article for free, you might want to try emailing the researcher and see if he archived it in a repository or published it in an open access journal. His email was in the abstract:

  13. Whitney says:

    I agree with the first comment in this. People need stop treating this as disease to cure but how to live with it. Yeah brain changes as humans get older so do the symptoms. It was not leap of faith in this regard. Human brain reaches maturity around 25 years of age and unless it is active deteriorates over time.

    What the Autism community needs is equal access to jobs and opportunities to be as self sufficient as they possibly can.

    Equal rights as human beings

    AS Tacitus said we are not Peter Pan.

  14. April says:

    Any parent with an older child knows they grow and change with age; Regardless of a disability. You don’t need to be a Scientist to see or understand that the brain becomes more so apparent with age; they grow into who they are. That’s why there are so many autistic kids with a late diagnosis, it’s more obvious. That is why I will never understand the reasoning to primarily offer autism services to kids ages 0-7. Actually, older kids with autism need more support, especially in the teen years.

  15. Natalie T says:

    So how does it change? For the better or for the worse? I was diagnosed with PDD-NOS seven years ago by a student psychologist, so it may not have been the most efficient diagnosis. I have had more of my struggles in my 20s, but overtime things have improved. I am wondering if this has to do with years of experimenting with different supplements and diet. I rarely eat out anymore and I do a lot more cooking with nonreprocessed and nutrient-dense foods, and now I regularly take spirulina, gingko, and neuro-ps. Of course, my relationship with God also helps. I do not believe anyone is meant to be disconnected. Maybe connected in other ways, but never a lone island, and I am thankful for the unusual talents God has given me and when I use them. I still have bad, brain-foggy days every now and then, but not as many as I used to.

  16. Julianne says:

    I am new to all this. I am having my teen daughter tested for Asperges, and after doing a lot of research and reading, I just know this is what she has. I feel very sad that she has lived life till now, with me thinking she was different, and just being difficult, and not knowing the real cause. She seems to have grown out of a lot of things that I would find annoying, but I think, maybe she just took longer to learn certain things than others?

  17. Laura says:

    any news on this study ?

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