Simultaneously Weaker and Stronger? New Brain Research Begins to Makes Sense of a Longstanding Paradox

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For many years, researchers have been puzzled by conflicting studies in the realm of brain science and autism. Despite sound research methods, some studies seemed to demonstrate that people diagnosed with autism spectrum disorder (ASD) demonstrated weaker brain network connections than their typically developing peers, while other studies showed stronger connections.

A new study led by researchers at Children’s Hospital of Philadelphia (CHOP) and University of Pennsylvania’s Lifespan Brain Institute (LiBi) suggests that people on the autism spectrum may have simultaneously weaker and stronger brain connections.

Benjamin E. Yerys, PhD, a child psychologist in the Center for Autism Research at the Children’s Hospital of Philadelphia, and colleagues used resting state-fMRI (functional magnetic resonance imaging) to examine the strength of the connections both within and across specific brain networks in children with and without ASD. Compared to the typically developing children, children with ASD appeared to have weaker brain connections when looking at absolute strength of the connection. However, despite showing weaker connections overall, children with ASD showed relatively stronger connections within brain networks responsible for attention and social cognition compared with other brain networks.

Read more about this work from the Center for Autism Research.