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Autism and the Brain. Hello Antonia Hamilton –Lecturer & researcher in Psychology from the University of Nottingham –will give a general introduction.

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Presentation on theme: "Autism and the Brain. Hello Antonia Hamilton –Lecturer & researcher in Psychology from the University of Nottingham –will give a general introduction."— Presentation transcript:

1 Autism and the Brain

2 Hello Antonia Hamilton –Lecturer & researcher in Psychology from the University of Nottingham –will give a general introduction Lauren Marsh –research assistant from the University of Nottingham –will talk about one research project Emma Gowen –Lecturer & researcher in Psychology from Manchester University –will talk about autism research at Manchester

3 What do cognitive psychologists do? How do we see, think, remember, feel, act? How does the brain work? see hear touch perform actions The brain Why do different people do things differently?

4 How do we study the mind? Use computer tasks – see a picture, press a button. How fast are you? Use memory tasks – see a list of words, which ones do you remember? Use action tasks – how do you move your hands? Use eye movement tasks – which parts of a picture do you look at? … and more

5 How do we study the brain? fMRI brain scanners let us see which 'brain areas' are active for different tasks

6 Why do psychologists study autism? People with autism have a different way of understanding the world and interacting with the world We want to know how & why So what do we know already?

7 Differences in social tasks People with autism often have trouble in social situations They may learn clever ways to compensate for this Neurotypicals look at the eyes Autistic people look at the mouth

8 Skills in autism Some people with autism are exceptionally good at drawing or maths or music … Many are good at seeing things in detail Does this triangle appear in this picture?

9 The brain in autism We don’t know much Brain looks the same Subtle differences in brain activity

10 Research questions Why do autistic people find some social tasks so difficult? How can neurotypicals learn to see in detail like autistic people? Which parts of the brain are different in autism and why? What else do you want to know?

11 Lauren Marsh: Mirrors in the brain

12 The mirror system A set of brain regions which respond when you: perform an action see someone else acting imitate an action understand an action Goals are critical for understanding

13 Mirroring for social interaction Some researchers suggest that the mirror system is essential for social interaction mirror systems let us imitate they may contribute to language and empathy and other social skills

14 What is the broken mirror? children with autism don’t imitate people much some of the functions of the mirror system overlap with the difficulties seen in autism language can develop slowly in children with autism The mirror system might be abnormal in autism because: However, there is very little good evidence to support this claim.

15 Studying the mirror system in autism 1.Children with autism imitating goals 2.Goals in the brain

16 Study 1: Goal directed imitation 3-6 year olds imitate goals not means Revealed by hand errors on cross-body trials Good imitation on all other trials Do children with ASD show the same pattern of errors? Test 26 children with ASD and 25 typical children Bekkering, et al, 2000 Gattis et al, 2002

17 Goal directed imitation

18 Both groups replicate Bekkering et al No problems with goals in children with ASD Goal directed imitation 0 2 4 hand errors asd typically developing same side cross body both sides

19 Conclusions from study 1: Children with autism can imitate goals when explicitly asked to do so This suggests they do NOT have a broken mirror system This means that children with autism can learn through imitation, but we need to explicitly ask them to imitate us

20 Study 2: Goals in the brain What is happening in the brain in autism?

21 Typical mirror system Average brain activity of 20 undergraduate students

22 Outcomes from study 2 Does the mirror neuron system respond in the same way in people with autism? –If YES – it is not broken. The theory is wrong. –If NO – maybe it is broken. How can we fix it?

23 Recruiting! We are currently looking for people aged 18-55 with a diagnosis of autism, ASD or Aspergers to take part. For more information, please contact me: 0115 846 7920

24 Emma Gowen University of Manchester

25 Sensory experiences –Superior perceptual performance –Visual search –Hypersensitivity

26 Sensory integration Altered sensory integration? NEW RESULTS IN!!! Our results indicate that people with ASD combine sensory stimuli even when at different locations e.g. they over- integrate

27 Motor difficulties Coordination of movements –Clumsiness –Balance, eye hand coordination –Altered sensory-motor integration? Emma’s Brain

28 Imitation – copying someone else Sensory Information (visual) Motor system (controls movement) Action performed Sensory-motor integration is important for imitation

29 Manchester Study Imitation task – how is imitation different in ASD? Motion and eye tracking study Volunteers needed Formal diagnosis of high-functioning autism or Asperger syndrome 18-45 years old Generally healthy Travel costs covered plus £20 for taking part Contact: Kelly Wild (0161 306 0470)

30 Questions? What research would you like to see? What do you need to know? How can research help you? Ask a question Come to our stand and ask Send us an email …


32 Which is simpler?

33 Not everything is different! People can guess other people's wealth / status from a picture People with autism can do this too

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