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Autistic kids who best peers at math show different brain organization, Stanford/Packard study shows
Date:8/16/2013

ildren, ages 7 to 12. Half had been diagnosed with autism. The other half was the control group. Each group had 14 boys and four girls. (Autism disproportionately affects boys.) All participants had IQs in the normal range and showed normal verbal and reading skills on standardized tests administered as part of the recruitment process for the study. But on the standardized math tests that were administered, the children with autism outperformed children in the control group.

After the math test, researchers interviewed the children to assess which types of problem-solving strategies each had used: Simply remembering an answer they already knew; counting on their fingers or in their heads; or breaking the problem down into components a comparatively sophisticated method called decomposition. The children with autism displayed greater use of decomposition strategies, suggesting that more analytic strategies, rather than rote memory, were the source of their enhanced abilities.

Then, the children worked on solving math problems while their brain activity was measured in an MRI scanner, in which they had to lie down and remain still. The brain scans of the autistic children revealed an unusual pattern of activity in the ventral temporal occipital cortex, an area specialized for processing visual objects, including faces.

"Our findings suggest that altered patterns of brain organization in areas typically devoted to face processing may underlie the ability of children with autism to develop specialized skills in numerical problem solving," Iuculano said.

Menon added that previous research "has focused almost exclusively on weaknesses in children with autism. Our study supports the idea that the atypical brain development in autism can lead, not just to deficits, but also to some remarkable cognitive strengths. We think this can be reassuring to parents."

The research team is now gathering data from a larger group of children
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Contact: Louis Bergeron
louisb3@stanford.edu
650-724-9175
Stanford University Medical Center
Source:Eurekalert

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