How The Brains Of Kids With Autism And Other Special Needs Work

If you’re the parent of a child with autism or other special needs, you may often wonder just how their brains work. Obviously, any kid’s brain is somewhat of a mystery, as you may well know when your so-called typical child has an epic meltdown for no apparent reason. But if you have a kid who has a learning disability, autism or cognitive impairment, some days you may ache to know what is going on inside their heads—and whether there is anything you could do to help them function better. That’s the question we’ve pondered literally since our son, Max, had a stroke at birth that resulted in brain damage.

Two new studies have uncovered differences in the brains of those with disabilities. Neurons in the brains of people with autism respond differently to facial recognition than those of people who do not have the condition, reveals a study by researchers at Cedars-Sinai published in the journal Neuron. Experts say it could lead to a greater understanding of autism.

Another study, from Michigan State University, has discovered that children who have a nonverbal learning disability (NVLD) have brains that can develop differently from those of other children. They did brain scans on 150 children ages 8 to 18 and saw that children with NVLD had smaller splenums than both children with other learning disorders such as ADHD and ones who were typically developing. The splenum is part of the corpus collusum, aka the dividing wall of fibers that separates the left and right hemisphere. These findings, researchers say, could lead to better intervention strategies.

From the get-go, Max’s neurologist told us to pay no attention to the scary scans of Max’s brain. “Look at what he is doing, not what he isn’t,” he said. “Focus on that, and on helping him reach his potential.”  We’re lucky to be living in a time when there’s such groundbreaking research on the brain. It’s fascinating. But as much as we may yearn to know why our children’s minds work the way they do, as much as we may hope for magic cures, science on brain function won’t help our kids in the here and now; only therapy, home-grown efforts and hope and faith can.

From my other blog:

The grief that won’t let go

Holiday gifts for kids with special needs 2013

One of the toughest parts of special needs parenting (and the most rewarding)

 

Image of child with arrows via Shutterstock

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