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Autism's Four C's: Cerebellum, Connectivity, Coordination, Communication

Posted Apr 30 2009 1:06pm
A neuroimaging study comparing High Functioning Autistic children and typically developing children has found that children with autism relied heavily on the supplementary motor area (SMA), a region of the brain important for conscious, effortful movement, while performing simple motor tasks like sequential finger tapping. Their typically developing peers in the study used the cerebellum, a region of the brain important for automating motor tasks, The study is published in the journal Brain April 23 and is the subject of a news release by the Kennedy Krieger Institute:

This suggests children with autism have to recruit and rely on more conscious, effortful motor planning because they are not able to rely on the cerebellum to automate tasks.

The significance of the current Kennedy Kreiger Institute study for understanding autism disorders and behaviors is explained by Dr. Stewart H. Mostofsky, senior study author and a pediatric neurologist in the Department of Developmental Cognitive Neurology at the Kennedy Krieger Institute:

“Tapping your fingers is a simple action, but it involves communication and coordination between several regions of the brain. These results suggest that in children with autism, fairly close regions of the brains involved in motor tasks have difficulty coordinating activity. If decreased connectivity is at the heart of autism, it makes sense social and communication skills are greatly impaired, as they involve even more complex coordination between more distant areas of the brain."

The study results also support previous studies which tie autism to structural and functional brain underconnectivity. See for example Functional and Anatomical Cortical Underconnectivity in Autism: Evidence from an fMRI Study of an Executive Function Task and Corpus Callosum Morphometry in Cerebral Cortex, June 13, 2006 .


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