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).
Read more about this research here.
Parents and teachers can often feel overwhelmed when considering which approaches to use to support young people with autism. There are numerous intervention strategies and approaches advocated within the literature. Research Autism list a bewildering 978 different interventions which are used in practice. The NAS lists strategies and approaches ranging from visual supports and social stories to more ‘complete’ packages like TEACCH.
However, the evidence base for many of the approaches that are widely used is not entirely convincing. Many experts in the field would agree that no single approach can be useful for all individuals with autism, and that no approach is likely to be suitable even for the same individual over time. So just how do parents and professionals know that they are ‘doing the right thing’?
A research study published in November 2012 suggests that more evidence is urgently needed to support the use of autism interventions. The report, published in the journal Pediatrics, and comissioned by the RAND corporation concludes that the evidence for the efficacy of the most widely used interventions ranges from moderate to insufficient.
The study indicates that there is moderate evidence that Auditory Integration Training is not effective, and that there is insufficient evidence regarding the efficacy of augmentative and alternative communication devices. Also, the expert panel was unable to reach consensus about the evidence for Sensory Integration or Deep Pressure Brushing.
The researchers agreed that there was enough evidence to endorse the following approaches:
The study also concludes that what is needed is higher quality, longitudinal research studies which are large enough to be able to tease out important details such as which interventions are best suited to different types of difficulties and also able to distinguish the effects of different components of interventions.