Brain & Behaviour Genetics Health

Sensory Stimuli Manipulation: A Strategic Approach to Counteract Autism

Autism Spectrum dysfunction is one of the leading psychological issue of the century. Due to the contaminated environment and genetic pressure, this condition has prevailed so rapidly all around the globe that it is estimated that 1 out of every 68 individuals is autistic and the risk factor of this condition is five times more for boys than girls. Autism covers a broad spectrum of psychological and neurological conditions spanning from simple behavioral abnormalities to mental retardation. Repetitive cousin marriages and the contamination of environment with heavy metals like Lead are some of the major precursors of this condition. Individuals with autism are more likely to show different responsivity to certain stimuli and conditions than the normal persons. Sometimes it is seen in the form of antisocial behavior and irresponsivity to reality. Until now there has been no confirmed cure for this condition due to its mysterious physiology and biochemistry. However certain physical and psychological therapies have shown positive results thus improving the lifestyle of such individuals.

Background of Research:

Physiologically the patients of  autism show variability in the characteristics of their condition but on the behavioral basis there are generally two behavioral forms of autism are seen, normal responsivity and hyper responsivity. Individuals with normal responsivity are more likely to show normal response behaviors as other non autistic individuals under the influence of sheer sensory stimuli. However hyper responsive individuals show abnormal, anti social or even violent behavior when they are exposed to such stimuli. This not only disturbs the life of such people but also the life of their parents. The lives of such individuals get reduced to their homes which proves to be more disturbing in the future. In the past few decades, psychological conditions such as autism have been an extensive area of research. Medication in these cases is of no use as clearly this problem is not medical. Rehabiliation of such individuals by isolation into wards have also been of little success. Because the major problem is not with their physical responses, it is actually with their perception of reality and stimuli. A normal person considers that particular stimulus under the normal threshold levels, however for a hyper responsive autistic individual that very same stimulus is above the threshold level very much like a high pitched noise that deafens the ears. Considering their version of reality, their responses are pretty much normal and justified. So a typical set of non surgical and non medical techniques must be designed to overcome this problem.

Principle:

The basic idea of such psychological therapies is to alter the state of reality for the affected individual so that the autistic patient perceives the stimuli normal than that he once perceived as abnormal resulting into hyper responsivity. Roughly the idea is to build up the sensory stimuli threshold level in such patients by continuous practice and exposure.

Case Trials:

At UCLA , using the MRI techniques, a group of neuroscientists and psychologists found out that, individuals that show over responsive behavior on exposure to simple auditory, visual and tactile stimuli than their other autistic fellows have brains that respond and work very differently towards those normal stimuli than the others.

Experimental Design:

For confirming the proposed hypotheses, a case study was conducted between autistic and non autistic individuals within the age barrier of 9-17. The individuals were exposed to multiple disturbing auditory and tactile stimuli and their brain activity was observed using MRI and brain scans

During the experiment, all individuals were exposed to traffic noises first and then their inner arm was rubbed by scratchy wood fabric and after that both the stimuli were exposed to the subjects simultaneously. The imaging results showed that brains of autistic patients showed hyperactivity in areas of processing of sensory information along with hyper active sparks in amygdale which is the emotional response center of the brain. The experiment also showed that autistic individuals took a very long time to process those stimuli as non threatening which clearly points out the fact that they have very strong connections between prefrontal cortex and amygdala of the brain. The increased time duration in over responsive autism subjects is due to the reason that they are actually compensating for the strong connections in their brains.

Insights:

  • Until now, there has been no successful intervention to treat over responsivity, however this study provides the insight that we can develop some coping skills in autistic patients to deal with simulating environment by simply changing their perception of reality and stimuli.
  • Although hyper responsivity and imaging technology have recently been integrated into the diagnostics of autism however their indulgement can help to better understand the correlation between neurological and psychological physiology
  • Autistic individuals who do not have sensory over responsivity show reactions to the sensory stimuli very much similar to the normal individuals thus this states that they have very much similar coping mechanisms of their brains like the normal people which can provide basics on how hyper responsive autistic individuals can be tampered with to ensure normality in their lifestyles.

Conclusions:

As evident from the above stated cases, it is not always nnecessary that the solution of a biological problem lies in complicated or expensive methodologies. Sometimes simply by developing basic strategic approaches, biggest of the problems can be solved. The point of developing such strategic approaches is to ensure better quantity and quality of life for everybody. This is now extensive area of research , providing innovative platforms globally

References:

http://newsroom.ucla.edu/releases/children-with-autism-who-are-overly-sensitive-to-stimuli-have-brains-that-react-differently

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About the author

Waleed Sohail Chohan

Waleed Sohail Chohan is currently finishing his BS from University of Gujrat. He is currently Biology Decoded's Director of Media Team and President of our Gujranwala Headquarters.