A new study just found that autistic children show abnormalities in a deep brain circuit which usually make social activities enjoyable.
Through MRI brain scans researchers are finding that autistic kids show differences in the function and structure of a brain circuit called the mesolimbic reward pathway.
That specific circuit which is located deeply within the brain, helps you in taking pleasure in social-related interactions, which autistic people struggle with, explained the study authors.
Experts said that these findings provide insight into what is actually occurring in the brain affected by autism.
One hallmark of ASD is difficulty with understanding and responding at all to the social cues of other people. The new study indicates because of brain wiring, those interactions do not feel so rewarding to anyone with ASD.
Researchers said that if a young kid doesn’t feel basic, normal pleasure of socializing, s/he may avoid it completely, and then miss the opportunity in developing needed complex social skills.
The researchers scanned kids ages ranging from 7 to 13. Kaustubh Supekar, a research scientist at Stanford University, added that the brain circuit failed to develop normally in account of children lacking years of continuous social interactions.
However, he went on, saying there’s animal research suggesting the brain differences may be the cause: when lab mice’s mesolimbic reward pathway was disrupted, they became less social with one another.
Dr. Xavier Castellanos said that none of that indicates autistic children are unable to acquire social skills.
He further added that there are certain therapies which use “rewards and positive reinforcement” in encouraging autistic children to become engaged more socially.
He further said that if researchers gain deeper understanding of the brain mechanisms, as they relate to ASD, they might develop better and more refined treatments.
For the study, Supekar’s team analyzed functional MRI brain scans from 24 high- functioning autistic kids, and 24 children without ASD. Functional MRI scans chart blood flowing in the brain, as a measure of brain activity.
The study found that autistic children showed marked differences in the mesolimbic reward pathway; the nerve fibers there were thinner and brain cells gave the appearance to have weaker connections.
Supekar said those abnormalities looked more pronounced in kids who cannot socialize very easily. Then the researchers performed the scans in another group of 34 kids, and the same patterns showed up.
Castellanos added that more studies are yet needed to absolutely confirmed these patterns are observed consistently.