A team of researchers from Cambridge University have demonstrated that whereas synaesthesia only occurred in 7.2% of typical individuals, it occurred in 18.9% of people with autism.
Synaesthesia describes the experience of a ‘mixing of the senses’, for example, seeing colours when you hear sounds, or reporting that musical notes evoke different tastes. Autism is diagnosed when a person struggles with social relationships and communication, and shows unusually narrow interests and resistance to change.
At the level of the brain, synaesthesia involves atypical connections between brain areas that are not usually wired together (so that a sensation in one channel automatically triggers a perception in another). Autism has also been postulated to involve over-connectivity of neurons (so that the person over-focuses on small details but struggles to keep track of the big picture).
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The findings of a recent study are challenging the prevailing notion in the field that the brains of people with autism may be lacking in neural connections. Autism spectrum disorder is a neuro-developmental condition affecting an estimated 1 in 88 children.
The research demonstrates that the brains of children with autism actually show more connections than the brains of typically developing children. Additionally, the brains of individuals with the most significant social symptoms are also the most hyper-connected. The researchers hope the findings could lead to new treatment strategies and new ways to detect autism early.
Read more about this study.