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The scientific data building around autism has been growing fast and furious.  Most studies done, in terms of methodology, have, in some fashion, compared and contrasted populations of autistic and non-autistic individuals.  Researchers in a new study, whose peer-reviewed results have been published in the latest issue of The American Journal of Psychiatry have tried a different approach.  The results of their study, and the methodology used are special enough to have been highlighted in an editorial in the Journal.

More below the fold:

(First, for those who would prefer to examine the study and editorial directly, links are provided here and here, respectively.  I will be briefly paraphrasing the study; I encourage anyone with a serious interest to click on the links.)

The researchers, in a novel twist, elected to examine brain activity in a population consisting solely of non-autistic individuals.  Even NTs may have autistic traits.  The study focussed on how the degree of autistic traits in these non-autistic individuals related to the functional relationship between two specific areas of the brain.  (For those who, unlike me, might understand the significance of the two areas chosen to study, they are the pregenual anterior cingulate and the anterior mid-insula.)

In order to identify autistic traits in non-autistic individuals, the researchers used the Social Responsiveness Scale, which is a questionnaire with 65 questions.  This questionnaire is designed to measure the severity and type of social impairments which are characteristic of autistic spectrum conditions.  Even individuals who are not autistic may exhibit autistic social impairment on some level.

What did the researchers find?  Quoting from the editorial:

To briefly summarize their main result, Di Martino and colleagues found that functional connectivity between the pregenual anterior cingulate cortex and anterior mid-insula was sensitive to the level of autistic traits across a sample of nonautistic individuals. Those with higher levels of autistic traits had lower functional connectivity, while those with lower levels of autistic traits had greater functional connectivity. Based on previous research and the pattern of anterior cingulate-insula connectivity they identified in their present study, the authors speculate that the anterior mid-insular region might serve as a transition zone between the anterior insula and posterior insula, regions thought to be involved in social and emotional cognition and somatic representation, respectively.

Now, an important part of the study's structure is that it focusses on the brain at rest.  This may prove to be an important feature, as further studies examine autistic populations in light of the connectivities found.  Current studies, in demanding complex tasks, may skew toward selecting higher functioning autistics, who are better able to comply, as part of a study population.  If the only requirement is for a study subject to simply remain still, it may allow for a more diverse sample of subjects to be chosen.

As the authors point out, the significance of their findings for understanding autism is unknown at present and will only be borne out by additional studies that include an autism sample. However, being able to quantify the degree of autistic traits in the general population along side those with autism might yield important insight into the nature of autism. For instance, it is presently unclear whether autism represents an extreme end of a continuum within the general population or whether the diagnosis represents both a qualitative and quantitative rift from typical development. If the former were true, one might expect to see a continuation of the brain-behavior relationship identified in the Di Martino study that spans across diagnostic category. If the latter were true, however, one might expect to find a distinct brain-behavior relationship within each group (autism versus comparison).

The implications of this study, and the methodology used, open up new and exciting vistas to be explored, as we nail down what autism is, and how it manifests.  And it poses the revolutionary idea that the autistic continuum is simply a subset of the overall continuum, rather than separate from it.  Perhaps that will enable us to move to a day when autistics are treated more like "who", and less like "what".

Originally posted to aravir on Mon Aug 03, 2009 at 11:41 AM PDT.

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Comment Preferences

  •  A little too technical for me (0+ / 0-)

    but it sounds interesting. BTW, never got your email.

    "crush in it's birth the aristocracy of our monied corporations which dare already to challenge our government" -Thomas Jefferson

    by Phil In Denver on Mon Aug 03, 2009 at 11:51:41 AM PDT

    •  Just got your response over the weekend. (0+ / 0-)

      Based on what you wrote, you got a lot more messages than you expected.  But you did respond to my e-mail.   Thanks.

      Ancora Impara--Michelangelo

      by aravir on Mon Aug 03, 2009 at 12:01:30 PM PDT

      [ Parent ]

      •  Er, then it wasn't (1+ / 0-)
        Recommended by:

        evident from your email which message was from you, sorry. I'll look again to see if I can identify your handle in the email.

        "crush in it's birth the aristocracy of our monied corporations which dare already to challenge our government" -Thomas Jefferson

        by Phil In Denver on Mon Aug 03, 2009 at 12:04:31 PM PDT

        [ Parent ]

  •  Is that SRS test (0+ / 0-)

    something you can take online to see how you can score?

    Those who labour in the earth are the chosen people of God. - Thomas Jefferson

    by Ezekial 23 20 on Mon Aug 03, 2009 at 11:51:51 AM PDT

  •  The autism spectrum (0+ / 0-)

    Is too broad.

    To the point where it loses any meaning at all.  It's almost to the point where it's like saying anyone who can't run a 10k under 42 minutes has respiratory/heart condition.

    •  You don't know what you are talking about (2+ / 0-)
      Recommended by:
      Southside, Marcus Tullius

      It's not that broad at all, it goes from very severe to Asperger's. ADD, ADHD which both should be on the spectrum aren't.

      "crush in it's birth the aristocracy of our monied corporations which dare already to challenge our government" -Thomas Jefferson

      by Phil In Denver on Mon Aug 03, 2009 at 12:03:11 PM PDT

      [ Parent ]

      •  They've told me my daughter is (0+ / 0-)

        Autistic.  I asked why.  They said it was for a set of behaviors.  I had Those same behaviors when I was her age and no one ever said I was autistic.  I'm still introverted a little scatter brained and fidgety.

        I worked with a guy who had autism.  He would hit himself a lot.

        The fact that my daughter is called the same thing is that guy bothers me.

        I know a teeny weeny bit about it.  

        •  Teeny weeny is right (2+ / 0-)
          Recommended by:
          Marcus Tullius, Jyrinx

          I recommend you learn a little more about it. I don't know your age, but autism wasn't even required in most college psychology curricula until fairly recently.

          Very few adults high enough on the spectrum to be able to communicate as you apparently can would have been formally diagnosed during their youth.

          You also don't describe who "they" are. Did you get an IEP, do you know what diagnostic methods they used, what was the formal written description of your daughter's condition? All of that should be in your IEP. If your understanding of what is in your IEP is so base as to even reference the question as you have here, then either you didn't get a real diagnosis, or you didn't care to actually review what it says and means.

          "crush in it's birth the aristocracy of our monied corporations which dare already to challenge our government" -Thomas Jefferson

          by Phil In Denver on Mon Aug 03, 2009 at 12:18:40 PM PDT

          [ Parent ]

          •  Yes on the IEP thing (0+ / 0-)

            I don't have a doctorate.  

            Obviously I should just shut up, which I will do.  My daughter is introverted and while very affectionate she has her own little world.

            People have already decided to pass judgment on me but I still think what my daughter has is different than what this other guy had who was not affectionate and would start to hit himself if you tried to give him a hug or even a helping hand.  I worked with Him for five months in a group home environment before he had to be put in a home for himself.

            •  There's a reason it's called (0+ / 0-)

              the autism spectrum. I've known a number of people with Asperger's, and none of them hit themselves either.

              “If I can't dance to it, it's not my revolution.” — Emma Goldman

              by Jyrinx on Mon Aug 03, 2009 at 12:35:27 PM PDT

              [ Parent ]

              •  But I think a spectrum that groups (0+ / 0-)

                Such extremes together on the same spectrum creates a lot of misinformation.

                I understand the clinical reasons why they do it.

                •  Er not really misinformation (1+ / 0-)
                  Recommended by:

                  keep in mind that the spectrum has several distinct conditions on it. Autism, PDDNOS, Aspergers, etc. The thing is, that our understanding has evolved considerably since when I was diagnosed in 1967 to now.

                  Autism originally referred to people who were severely afflicted and usually had no speech. As time has passed, certain of the traits were discovered to exist in significantly higher functioning individuals (such as myself). The "spectrum" word was then coined as it was discoverd (or theorized if you like) that it was all closely related.

                  Autism and it's related conditions are particularly puzzling because they do have so many differnt faces. But it's important to keep them grouped together because treatment and understanding are all very much tied together.

                  "crush in it's birth the aristocracy of our monied corporations which dare already to challenge our government" -Thomas Jefferson

                  by Phil In Denver on Mon Aug 03, 2009 at 12:50:01 PM PDT

                  [ Parent ]

                  •  I agree with your comments but not (0+ / 0-)

                    your conclusion.  I'd think it's important to not group the discreet autism subtypes together because treatment and therapy can be quite different depending on the subtype.  Too much talking past one another goes on in our community because we (and the media) don't insert the word "some" before "autism" when the topic is discussed or written about.

                    A commonsense look at these differences (and overlaps) can be found in this book:

                    "Those dunes are to the Midwest what the Grand Canyon is to Arizona and the Yosemite is to California." - Carl Sandburg

                    by Critical Dune on Mon Aug 03, 2009 at 01:36:26 PM PDT

                    [ Parent ]

            •  Let me be the first to ratchet the sarcasm down (0+ / 0-)

              a bit, because you may need some help. I don't mean to pimp my own work but if you get the time you might want to take a look at this.

              Before you get to that though, please be aware autism isn't the same in everyone, and that's probably what bothers you. They call it a spectrum condition for a good reason. It does range.

              You should be a bit more precise if you can, and really you might want to take a look at that IEP. Was the diagnosis classic autism, aspergers, or autism spectrum disorder. The last one would probably describe any young child who has the power of speech and a few symptoms. An IEP diagnosis of autism or classic autism usually would refer to kids who are moderate to severe, often lacking the power of speech at all, or with very limited speech.

              I can tell you a lot more if you care to know about it.

              "crush in it's birth the aristocracy of our monied corporations which dare already to challenge our government" -Thomas Jefferson

              by Phil In Denver on Mon Aug 03, 2009 at 12:41:05 PM PDT

              [ Parent ]

              •  All I know is that shes been diagnosed (0+ / 0-)

                Autistic, if she was supposed to be diagnosed something else, then great.

                I've talked this over with the folks who wrote up the IEP, and I'll add to this discussion that in order to receive intervention pre-pre-schooling she has to be diagnosed autistic.  My observation remains that of a lay person, and that a spectrum that contains a person who represents a danger to himself or society should not be labelled the same thing as someone who merely needs some intervention.

                I voiced this to the folks who wrote up the IEP and they were at least kind enough and patient enough with me to refrain from telling I don't know what I'm talking about.

                •  You are misunderstanding something (0+ / 0-)

                  first it is absolutely false that to receive services one must be diagnosed as autistic to receive pre-schood intervention.

                  In fact, responsible evaluators will refrain from making a diagnosis at all at this stage. Unless the child is severe and obvious, that diagnosis won't come until age six. These are federal standards that are the same everywhere. So I know that whatever you are looking at in your IEP is the same as what is in mine.

                  It could be very important that you be precise in this. First an IEP at pre-school age does not even have a "diagnosis" section per se. It has a section where they describe what their belief is represents her condition, but it by no means is a diagnosis...yet. That does not come until later, I promise you.

                  Any of the conditions such as "pre-schooler with disabilities" can be used to receive services. If they did select "autism" and not one of the others, they either think your daughter's condition is acute or they just want to insure she receives maximum services. It does not mean that she has classic autism. If your daughter can speak at pre-school age, she probably does not really have too severe a condition.

                  "crush in it's birth the aristocracy of our monied corporations which dare already to challenge our government" -Thomas Jefferson

                  by Phil In Denver on Mon Aug 03, 2009 at 01:00:14 PM PDT

                  [ Parent ]

                  •  To amplify (0+ / 0-)

                    An educational assessment for special-education purposes is not the same thing as a medical diagnosis. One of the important differences is that a child must, by law, put into only one service category for SE purposes, whereas an individual can have multiple medical diagnoses (for example, kids with Down Syndrome have a somewhat higher rate of autism than kids without it, but such a kid has to be assigned to either Autism or Mental Retardation, not both). Assignment to a service category is based on "what fits best, even if it doesn't fit very well" as well as on availability of resources (in the case of autistic DS kids, it will probably based on the relative degrees of social vs. cognitive impairment).

                    BTW, the criteria for educational assessments differ from state to state, whereas the official criteria for a diagnosis don't.

                    There's a popular misconception that any continuous trait must be distributed symmetrically (majority in the middle). That's simply not true (everyday examples of continuous traits that are not symmetric are weight and income). There's also a cognitive bias called the assumption of outgroup homogeneity which causes us to falsely expect that all people given a particular label will be more similar than they really are.

                    In the case of autism, a lot of the traits that the general public regards as "defining" are actually fairly unusual ones; there's another set of cognitive biases, colloquially known as "clinician's error," that causes people to mistakenly assume that the most dramatic or severe form of a condition is the most common one. For example, only a very small percentage of people with Tourette's exhibit coprolalia (involuntary swearing), yet that's what most laypeople envision when they think of the disorder.

                    What this all boils down to is that categories and typologies are human creations (abstractions) that help us make sense of the world. They are not physical or biological phenomena; treating them as if they are is committing the logical error of reification.

                    There is nothing so practical as a good theory—Kurt Lewin

                    by ebohlman on Mon Aug 03, 2009 at 02:50:56 PM PDT

                    [ Parent ]

                    •  bottom line (0+ / 0-)

                      there's a guy over there who hits himself and yells when you try to help him, (and god knows i'm not being glib about this, i put myself in the positino to take care of this kid, and it didn't make a difference, and the group home environment didn't make a difference,) his and we call that autism.

                      now i have a three year old girl who is outgoing vivacious, loves human contact giggles, and has a tendency to live inside her own mind sometimes, and we call that..... autism.  same thing.

                      you people are scholars bandying about all the wonderful ways things are categorized and all that, and i've been told i don't know what i'm talking about....

                      when fact is, one is a duck cause it walks and quacks like a duck, and the other doesn't walk and quack like a duck at all.

                      but there you go.  they're both ducks.  and i'm an idiot.

        •  Friend, (0+ / 0-)

          you really don't know what the hell you're talking about.

          The fact that my daughter is called the same thing is that guy bothers me.


          We're trapped in the belly of this horrible machine,

          And the machine is bleeding to death.

          by Marcus Tullius on Mon Aug 03, 2009 at 12:20:18 PM PDT

          [ Parent ]

          •  I do understand why Whimzy is bothered (0+ / 0-)

            It's because "autism" is a label; once it's stuck onto someone, there are immediate official assumptions (school!) about what that person IS, and the label sticks.

            In that sense, anything that emphasises the spectrum aspect of autism, and that it's a spectrum that reaches deep into the "normal" population, is in my view very welcome.

            There's a view that autism is "extreme maleness" (my wife agrees...).  Mild versions may in one person's mind simply qualify you as an insensitive jerk, while another slaps the autism label on you.

            γνωθι σεαυτόν

            by halef on Mon Aug 03, 2009 at 12:57:04 PM PDT

            [ Parent ]

            •  Agree (0+ / 0-)

              I would like to see the de-stygmatizing by applying the word "spectrum", and in fact I think that's what happens these days. Autism nowdays is usually set aside for those individuals who are more severe.

              I'm not so sure about the labeling though. Schools go by the IEP, in fact they are required by federal law to do so. Labeling as contained in the IEP usually only determines if and which services one receives.

              The behavior and progress of the student determines the rest, and in any case, nobody knows the label except the teachers, the speficic student in question (maybe), and the parents (hopefully). I don't believe they are even allowed to discuss the labels with anyone else.

              "crush in it's birth the aristocracy of our monied corporations which dare already to challenge our government" -Thomas Jefferson

              by Phil In Denver on Mon Aug 03, 2009 at 01:09:45 PM PDT

              [ Parent ]

    •  The issue may be that the "autism spectrum" (0+ / 0-)

      is an artificial construct which serves to separate autistics from a more general spectrum.

      Ancora Impara--Michelangelo

      by aravir on Mon Aug 03, 2009 at 12:04:53 PM PDT

      [ Parent ]

      •  Of course it's an artificial construct (1+ / 0-)
        Recommended by:

        everything in psychology is. But unlike mental disorders like paranoia or bi-polar disorder, there are actual physical brain structures that appear to be at least at part involved in autism. For example, there have been studies on the amount of white matter in the amygdala which show that in all cases when brains of people with autism were examined (posthumously I presume) the white matter count was much higher and the amygdala larger. The amygdala is where our sense of anxiety is centered.

        "crush in it's birth the aristocracy of our monied corporations which dare already to challenge our government" -Thomas Jefferson

        by Phil In Denver on Mon Aug 03, 2009 at 12:10:32 PM PDT

        [ Parent ]

        •  I agree on a scientific basis (1+ / 0-)
          Recommended by:

          There have been a number of studies which examine brain activity and neural connection, and there is a difference.
          My point was meant to be more philosophical.  The treatment of autistics as separate from NTs creates a paradigm which allows different treatment in a social sense.

          Ancora Impara--Michelangelo

          by aravir on Mon Aug 03, 2009 at 12:16:55 PM PDT

          [ Parent ]

          •  As it should (2+ / 0-)
            Recommended by:
            Jyrinx, pinkomommy

            you can't mainstream severe autistics and prematurely mainstreaming higher functioning autitics causes them to experience social ostricism or worse. Fact is we are differnt and require different treatment at least at certain times and under certain conditions.

            "crush in it's birth the aristocracy of our monied corporations which dare already to challenge our government" -Thomas Jefferson

            by Phil In Denver on Mon Aug 03, 2009 at 12:24:12 PM PDT

            [ Parent ]

          •  Erm, they *are* different. (2+ / 0-)
            Recommended by:
            Phil In Denver, Critical Dune

            If society feels the need to alienate people who are identified as having an abnormal behavioral condition, the solution is to get society to be more tolerant, not to gloss over the condition.

            “If I can't dance to it, it's not my revolution.” — Emma Goldman

            by Jyrinx on Mon Aug 03, 2009 at 12:38:17 PM PDT

            [ Parent ]

        •  Slight correction (1+ / 0-)
          Recommended by:
          Tropical Depression

          I appreciate and agree with your overall point, that it helps to know how the brains of people with an autism spectrum are different physically from NT brains.  However, there are structural differences observed in the brains of people with bipolar disorder.  There's reduction in size of the hippocampus, reduction in volume and increased activity of the amygdala, and reduction in size of the caudate nucleus.  

          We won. But we're not done. - h/t karateexplosions

          by auroraborealis on Mon Aug 03, 2009 at 01:53:34 PM PDT

          [ Parent ]

  •  Snark- Why Are We Worrying About Autism? (0+ / 0-)

    According to Peter King, Health Care Reform is NOT A MAJOR ISSUE for Americans!!!!!

    Where is this asshole so I can whack him in the side of the head with my crutch??

    I'm Here From The American News Media and Vow to Give You Worthless News

    by hopalong on Mon Aug 03, 2009 at 12:59:05 PM PDT

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