Brain structure, function and connectivity in Autism
People with high functioning autism (HFA) have difficulties in social interaction, communication and behaviour, but normal intelligence. In spite of the enormous impact associated with autism, no effective treatment has yet been developed. To devise a therapy for any disorder, knowledge of the basic underlying problems is essential. Unfortunately, in autism, these are not yet fully understood. It has been suggested that a multidisciplinary approach is essential in furthering our understanding of the cause of autism (e.g. Dawson et al, 2002). This study is strongly interdisciplinary, seeking to investigate links between neuropsychological and neuroimaging abnormalities in autism. Scientific research shows that individuals with HFA have trouble orienting attention. Abnormalities in brain structure and function and unusual connections between brain regions may underpin this problems but are not yet fully understood. Such an understanding is essential for the development of rational treatments for this disorder.
Theory: That people with HFA have difficulties orienting attention and that this problem is associated with underlying structural and functional brain abnormalities.
Objectives: To investigate brain activity and connections between brain regions in HFA during performance of psychological tasks. To relate brain activity and connectivity to brain structure.
Methods: Computer-based psychological tasks will be administered to a group with HFA and controls. Neuroimaging techniques will detect differences in brain activation and brain structure between the groups during these tasks.
Likely outcomes: During the psychological tasks, we expect children with HFA to have performance difficulties and abnormal brain activity. We anticipate that abnormal brain activity will occur in areas of the brain that are structurally abnormal.