Autism and learning

I recently listened to a very interesting Webinar entitled Neurobiology of Autism.

Presented by Martha S. Burns Ph. D., ccc-slp  (certificate of clinical competence – speech language pathology)

Here are a few highlights. 

They were looking at long white fiber tract development – especially those in the corpus callosum which connects the left & right hemispheres of the brain and those that run from the occipital lobe through the temporal lobe to the frontal lobe.  The development of these fiber tracts appears to be disrupted during the development of an autistic child.  This is one reason why everything may seem do be going well for a few years, and then the child begins to show symptoms.

There appears to be a genetic cause to Autism, perhaps through chemicals in the environment or age of parents (both sexes).

Although genetic, it does not appear to be inherited so much as it is caused by de Novo (new) gene mutations.  When genes copy themselves many mistakes can occur during this process.  Usually, this does not have an overall negative effect; however, in some cases when there are numerous errors or perhaps certain combinations of errors, there is a problem.

Also, Autism is very heterogeneous because of so many different possible mutations or combinations – no two autistic people are the same and there can be quite a lot of variability.  I have seen this with some of the students I have taught.

These white matter tracts are highly under the influence of environmental stimulation; therefore, targeted learning approaches can be extremely beneficial.

This is the most important component for my job because it means that people with autism have the ability to learn and to change if given the tools to do so!