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Medicine Science

Rewiring the Autistic Brain 139

Posted by Soulskill
from the neurosurgery-by-tim-allen dept.
sciencehabit writes "Signs of autism — such as impaired social skills and repetitive, ritualistic movements — usually begin to appear when a child is about 18 months old. Autism is thought to result from miswired connections in the developing brain, and many experts believe that therapies must begin during a 'critical window,' before the faulty circuits become fixed in place. But a new study (abstract) shows that at least one malfunctioning circuit can be repaired after that window closes, holding out hope that in some forms of autism, abnormal circuits in the brain can be corrected even after their development is complete."
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Rewiring the Autistic Brain

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  • But, but... (Score:2, Funny)

    by Anonymous Coward

    Who will write our file systems??

  • by Anonymous Coward

    Most symptoms of an ASD can be patched over with a little studying & practice & I know this from experience.

    • by Anonymous Coward on Friday September 14, 2012 @11:27PM (#41343385)

      Posting as AC, since I don't want my employer to read this.

      I have been diagnosed with aspergers. Anyone I have encountered in over 40 years on this planet that has any form of autism, mild or not, has to use their conscious brain functions to "patch" what "neurotypicals" have woven into their subconscious brain. People that think they are "superior to neurotypicals" in general don't realize what the part is they are missing. They are mistaking a high IQ for superiority while in practice, people with lower IQs as themselves but not with autism, tend to be more successful in life; in procreation, in happiness and in fortune.

      Sure, their higher IQs may make them "better citizens", but their high IQ and the decisions they make because of that, are not directly because of their autism. There are plenty of people with autism that don't have a high IQ, they get diagnosed with other forms like "classical autism" because they lack the brain power to consciously pick up the lack of social adaptation. This is a classical case of correlation is not the same as causation. I'm getting tired of those autistic people thinking they are superior just because they (once again) fail to see the point of social skills. The ones claiming this are usually not independently wealthy happy fathers, but rather single male workforce people that have individualistic jobs with no leadership requirements. Very few are female, but other than the single bit, they tend to be rather unhappy and not incredibly well off.

      Regarding the OT, I am skeptical about actual repair. I do hope it is possible since it takes a lot of energy to get by in normal life, even if you are "well adapted" like I classify. However, I think that if you only look at behavioral results, you may mistake conscious learning and decision making for actual instinctive behavior. Further testing will have to be done before claims should be made.

  • by BenoitRen (998927) on Friday September 14, 2012 @05:44PM (#41340491)

    Great, now we'll be able to fix all of them! We really need that! /sarcasm

    I for one find this very offensive. It's like telling all autistics they're malfunctioning.

    • Re: (Score:2, Insightful)

      by Anonymous Coward

      I'm unhappy with my intellectual abilities and I have a PhD and no mental issues. If someone could fix me to make me smarter, that sounds great. So I'm not sure what you are getting at. Why wouldn't many autistics like to have improved mental functioning, when many normal people do too? In any case yes, autistics are malfunctioning. You may find that offensive in the same way that I find it offensive that my body is set to malfunction within 100 years. Unfortunately facts don't become false just because the

      • by Anonymous Coward

        " In any case yes, autistics are malfunctioning."

        You mean like the warmongering, wage caste loving, profiteering, superstitious, corrupt, law abusing "normal people"? We could make an excellent case that normality is just popular malfunctioning.

        • The fight between "neurotypicals" and those within the ASD spectrum will be ongoing. Don't absolve ASD members of the problem with most of the problems you mention, caused by another disorder: sociopathy, and narcissism.

      • by JoeMerchant (803320) on Friday September 14, 2012 @08:58PM (#41342459) Homepage

        Define improved.

        If you gain social intelligence at the cost of creativity, have you been improved?

        If you can suddenly understand the opposite sex and get them to sleep with you quickly, but no longer do basic math in your head, is that a good trade?

        Problem with brain re-wiring is that you won't often "unlock a secret room full of new abilities", more often you'll open a new processing section that needs training and demands resources from other functions.

        • by macraig (621737)

          I wish I had mod points handy right now. +1 Insightful

        • by artor3 (1344997) on Friday September 14, 2012 @11:36PM (#41343435)

          Correlation is not causation. A fraction of autistic people (10%) are naturally gifted at math or creativity, but that doesn't mean that autism causes that talent. It is quite possible that the genetic causes for autism ALSO cause savant syndrome, and that we could cure the former without touching the latter. Even if not, we could cure the 90+% that don't get any benefit from their autism, and leave the savants untouched

          • by Immerman (2627577)

            That of course presumes that savants could be detected during the critical window (however large it may be), and that parents would rather have a savant than a child that they can readily relate to.

        • "If you gain social intelligence at the cost of creativity, have you been improved? If you can suddenly understand the opposite sex and get them to sleep with you quickly, but no longer do (basic) math in your head, is that a good trade?" Notice the word Basic. Let's change that to "Complex".

          Maybe, and this is in a sense exactly what the Autism *spectrum* is all about. A word from the New Age lit is useful here: Esoteric. Autistic people often tend to like esoteric things. The word has connotations of "obs

          • So suppose the autistic person can do seven different types of that kind of creativity. None of them help with a date. He might indeed be willing to trade those kinds of calculations for "slowing down" and "magically" seeing better social results.

            He might, one definition/distinction I read between autism and Aspergers was that a true autistic wouldn't care, where an aspie would give anything to be "more normal."

            Diversity is strength, suppression of diversity has led to some dark places.

        • I would say that would be entirely up to the person in question to define "improved."
          • Nice thought, but hard (and unfair) to put such decisions on young kids. My parents included me in the decision to skip 2nd grade, in retrospect it was probably the biggest and most painful mistake of my life, but it sounded great at the time. I had just turned seven.

            Many of these more radical interventions are being proposed for kids that are 2.

            • Very true. I think that comes with any big decision like that though. I was thinking more of a relative that was "diagnosed" with high functioning autism when he was in his teens (scare quotes because I believe HFA isn't an actual diagnosis). If I were a parent, I'd likely handle it much like I would religion or what my kid wanted to do with his/her life. I'd try to steer these things as best I could until they were old/mature enough to (somewhat) understand the gravity of these things and think about them
        • so, you'd rather do basic math in your head than sleep with hotties?
          what are you, gay?

          • so, you'd rather do basic math in your head than sleep with hotties?
            what are you, gay?

            I'm not gay, so take this with a grain of salt, but I'm pretty sure that gay people still like to sleep with hotties. Just hotties of their same sex.

        • If you can suddenly understand the opposite sex and get them to sleep with you quickly, but no longer do basic math in your head, is that a good trade?

          Depends on the person, I guess. Personally, I'd rather be fucking than adding, but to each his own.

          • It's all good fun until your latest conquest swindles you out of your life savings because you don't understand how all that money stuff actually works.

            • It's all good fun until your latest conquest swindles you out of your life savings because you don't understand how all that money stuff actually works.

              I feel like not understanding how that money stuff works is pretty common among lower-functioning autistic people. Presumably, part of the brain "rewiring" would involve learning to understand money, no?

              Depending on how good of a fuck this conquest is, as compared with the size of my life savings, it could still wind up working out in my favor. And if worse came to worse, I could always use my new found social skills to land myself a wealthy woman!

              • Not to rain on the imaginary parade, but back in real life I do know more than a couple of men who have slept their way into food, clothing, shelter, travel, etc. One made it work with a woman for almost 5 years, but the only ones I know that have really pulled it off long term have been gay - which is fine for them, but the road was typically pretty rocky, taking them to a pretty low point before getting plucked out of the gutter by their sugar daddy.

                • Well, I'm not autistic, so the notion of learning social skills at the expense of basic arithmetic is a hypothetical one.

                  If we're talking real life, I wouldn't be able to make the mooching thing work. Maybe it's different for younger folks, but for an old fart like me, it'd feel like someone sawed off my testicles with a sawzall to take on a sugar mommy.

      • by sjames (1099)

        Would you be as anxious for the treatment if it was likely to alter your personality and might leave you unable to understand your own doctoral thesis?

        The higher functioning autists might indeed opt-out of such a treatment. It's hard to say what the more withdrawn autists would think of it.

    • Re: (Score:3, Insightful)

      by Anonymous Coward

      Preface: I'm diagnosed with asperger's, a form of high-functioning autism, and I do a lot of work relating to autism advocacy.

      That being said, the language might need a little work, but we don't try to pretend a person with a deformed arm doesn't have a deformed arm. People on the autism spectrum tend to have a variety of physical issues relating to gut bacteria, mitochondrial function, nutritional levels and other things. Many of these issues can also be seen in their mothers, and there's some strong corre

      • by sjames (1099)

        If someone is missing a leg, and goes on to lead a normal life anyway, you don't pretend like it never happened, you stand proud of them for overcoming it. If you want to support those on the spectrum, be proud of those who accept that there's something malfunctioning in their body and find a way to make life work despite that. Don't try to pretend like there's nothing malfunctioning, because the first message that sends is "if you can't do it, it's all your fault" and you'd never tell that to a person who couldn't walk because they had a deformed leg.

        By the same token, you wouldn't insist that they give up their prosthetic in favor of a more normal looking but potentially less useful transplanted leg. You might offer that choice.

        • by ultranova (717540)

          By the same token, you wouldn't insist that they give up their prosthetic in favor of a more normal looking but potentially less useful transplanted leg.

          Are you referring to the monkey brain prosthetics [slashdot.org] two stories up from this one, or is this yet another example of Just World Fallacy (you couldn't possibly just be shafted, so every problem you got saddled with must have some kind of at-least-equal payback)?

          You might offer that choice.

          This, actually, rises a question: as our knowledge of brain increases, a

          • by sjames (1099)

            What part of LEG sounds like monkey brain prosthetic? :-)

            But no, it's not a just world fallacy, it's just a matter that disruptive changes to a person in adulthood can be devastating even if it seems 'obvious' that it should be a good thing. People blind from early childhood or birth who have their vision 'fixed' as adults rarely get much use from their new vision but have been known to commit suicide. I can't imagine that having such a thing forced upon them would be a good idea.

            Likewise it may seem to us

            • by ultranova (717540)

              What part of LEG sounds like monkey brain prosthetic? :-)

              The part where you bring up a prostethic leg in the context of repairing an alleged brain malfunction when there's another story about correcting brain malfunction (induced by cocaine) on monkeys with a brain prosthethic near this.

              Likewise it may seem to us like a transplanted leg would be superior to a prosthetic. It may BE superior for someone who has just lost their leg. In practice, it might be a liability for someone who is already well adapted

              • by sjames (1099)

                Actually the AC I replied to is the one who brought up leg, I just replied to the example as given.

                I do understand that mental illness presents a special challenge. The condition itself may cause the person to make bad decisions about treatment. Of course, even calling it a bad decision is a bit of hubris since I have never had the condition nor do I have personal subjective knowledge of what it feels like to be treated. Some claim it's quite the horror and consider it worse than the disease (even when th

        • by BenoitRen (998927)

          The problem I have with this reasoning is that, apart from not being able to relate to others well, autism is mainly a problem because of societal norms. As such I don't think they're malfunctioning, but different from most people.

          • by sjames (1099)

            Really, like the condition itself, there seems to be a spectrum. At one end there are people who are only diagnosed in adulthood if ever. On the other are people who don't appear connected enough to the world to survive at all without considerable assistance. In the middle are those who clearly don't connect very well socially but would obviously get along just fine if society could be a bit less militant about it's 'norms'.

            As to where the 'malfunction' line lies, that is a hard question as is usual for thi

      • by Relayman (1068986)
        I'm not excited about your use of "malfunctioning". It's not the same as being born with a missing leg. It's more like being born with a 36" vertical leap. I feel the pluses outweigh the minuses.
    • by TemperedAlchemist (2045966) on Friday September 14, 2012 @06:05PM (#41340765)

      We are, in a way. But you know what's to be said about judging a fish on its ability to climb a tree. Only we're like monkeys that have difficulty learning how to climb trees, and perhaps more importantly, don't like climbing trees even if we do learn.

      Should we learn how to climb trees? Definitely, you don't know when you might need to climb a tree as a monkey. But perhaps not all monkeys have to climb trees to be monkeys. Maybe they're perfectly happy on the ground using sticks to eat bugs. Not liking climbing trees (and being absolutely terrible at it) shouldn't mean there's something wrong that needs to be corrected.

      And think of all the things the ground monkey can explore. On the ground there are rivers to play in and lots more space than up in the trees. And maybe that's what the monkey community needs, monkeys that can find nice fresh sources of water on the ground or somewhere to bathe as well as monkeys that enjoy living their whole lives in trees eating fruit and swinging around.

      • by Tablizer (95088)

        and it frees up their hands so that monkeys can clobber other monkeys with sticks and stones

      • by macraig (621737)

        You know what you're describing, don't you? It's the beginning of a speciation event, one based not on physical incompatibilities but behavioral and cognitive ones. It's happened to primates before.

        I'd have settled for a +1 Insightful, but my modpoints wallet is empty.

    • Re: (Score:3, Insightful)

      by Anonymous Coward

      The tone is offensive yes, but I can entirely understand the motivation to help those with low-function autism live more normal lives. However, being HFA myself, I'm not certain I'd want to be "fixed" at this point. I wouldn't be myself, and I've grown to accept who I am.

      However, growing up without some of the social and emotional problems I have faced would have been much more pleasant, and it makes perfect sense why a parent might want to help keep a child from going through it. And for LFA things can

    • by Anonymous Coward

      My autistic son is aggressive, self injurious, and nonverbal. Nice that _you_ are offended by the possibility his life could be improved.

    • by memnock (466995)

      I just found out about an alternative hypothesis to the cause of autism: inflammation in the pregnant mother. Apparently an immune disorder in a mother will affect the unborn child.

      https://www.nytimes.com/2012/08/26/opinion/sunday/immune-disorders-and-autism.html?_r=2&pagewanted=all [nytimes.com]

      I didn't read any further on the topic, but the article does reference at least one researcher, so one could see what kind of study has been performed to support this idea.

    • They are.

    • Great, now we'll be able to fix all of them! We really need that! /sarcasm

      I for one find this very offensive. It's like telling all autistics they're malfunctioning.

      Parent of ASD-diagnosed kid here.

      You raise a good point. My wife and I recognize that we're walking a bit of a line in treating him. There are definitely those who subscribe to "The Einstein Syndrome", arguing that when you have a son of a computer geek and a banker, he just may be a little reclusive (I use that word, because it goes beyond being introverted), and that's fine. He's not broken. I see their point.

      On the other hand, humans are social animals. Reclusive people are mostly unhappy, and Einstein w

  • by StefanJ (88986) on Friday September 14, 2012 @06:01PM (#41340693) Homepage Journal

    ...any experiments along these lines will lead to the subjects developing terrifying mental powers, leading to a series of events ending with the callous lead scientist having his head explode.

    • by Coppit (2441)

      Where do I sign up?

    • Or... as the previous attempts at rewiring the brain did.... lobotomies.
    • Oh you pretty things (oh you pretty things)
      Don't you know you're driving your
      Mamas and papas insane
      Oh you pretty things (oh you pretty things)
      Don't you know you're driving your
      Mamas and papas insane
      Let me make it plain
      You gotta make way for the homo superior

      David Bowie 1971

  • No surprise here (Score:4, Informative)

    by wbr1 (2538558) on Friday September 14, 2012 @06:03PM (#41340725)
    For decades it was thought that no new nerve cells could grow in the brain. In the last few years we have discovered that the nervous system is more plastic than we thought.
    That said, it is obviously more flexible the younger you are, so if you can spot signs of neurological problems early and devise treatment regimens to offset, balance, or repair those problems it makes sense to do it as early as possible, even if it can be done to some degree later.
    • Judging by the article, any human trials of this are 20+ years out.

    • by jcaplan (56979)
      Creation of new nerve cells (neurons) in the adult human brain has only been only confirmed in a couple areas. (Granule cells of the dentate gyrus of the hippocampus, an area involved in forming new memories and cells which migrate to the olfactory bulb.) Much searching in other places including studies looking at uptake of radioactive particles from atmospheric nuclear bomb testing has shown that if new neurons are created in other areas, the rate must be extremely low. The plasticity of the adult nervous
  • Wow. How soon until the story in "The Speed of Dark" ( http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Speed_of_Dark [wikipedia.org] ) becomes real life?

  • They're made of neurons. There's no wiring involved.
  • They are curse words used by idiots to describe what used to be called "nerds" or "geeks" or "Poindexters". These fake diseases need to stop. Seriously. Stop hiding between made-up bullshit diseases. I'm probably going to be called an "ass-pie" or "assburger" now, but... no. I suck at attracting females and a bunch of other social things, but there is no need to label that with a disease. I am fully aware of it and don't try to hide it. I don't need a fictional "condition" to hide behind.

    The worst, however,

  • There is a huge contingent of medical practitioners, particularly nutritionists, who believe that ASD symptoms are the result of the liver being inadequate to filter toxins from the blood. Diet modifications have been documented to alleviate many ASD symptoms.

    • There is a huge contingent of medical practitioners, particularly nutritionists, who believe that ASD symptoms are the result of the liver being inadequate to filter toxins from the blood. Diet modifications have been documented to alleviate many ASD symptoms.

      How is that colon cleanse going? Solved your heavy metal problems yet?

  • Just saying.

  • Here is an interesting article on Gut Bacteria in the Economist.. Autism is mentioned as well.. worth a good read.. http://www.economist.com/node/21560523 [economist.com]

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