Lars Ross, Ph.D., and fellow neuroscientists are studying the relationship between multisensory integration and ASD.
Have you ever watched a video where the audio track is out of sync with the image? The experience is distracting and sometimes disturbing. Why? Because most of us experience the world in multisensory ways. What we see influences what we hear and vice versa. What happens, though, when our multisensory integration abilities are impaired? Such impairment is believed to underlie symptoms associated with autism spectrum disorder (ASD), according to Lars Ross, Ph.D., an assistant professor at the Gordon F. Derner Institute of Advanced Psychological Studies. Dr. Ross and fellow neuroscientists from the Albert Einstein College of Medicine are studying the relationship between multisensory integration and ASD.
In a recent experiment, Dr. Ross and his colleagues found evidence for the existence of multisensory integration deficits in young children with ASD who are at the higher functioning end of the spectrum. Under noisy conditions, typically developing children will have a much easier time deciphering a word when they both listen to it and see the speaker. For pre-adolescent children (ages 7 through 12) who have ASD, the benefit from seeing the speaker is significantly lower. Yet, in adolescence (ages 13 to 15), the difference between typically developing children and children with ASD virtually disappears. Dr. Ross explains that the results may indicate that the multisensory integration mechanism in children with ASD is not broken beyond repair. “It may be impaired earlier in life, but perhaps through increased exposure to a social environment, [it] can be fixed, which gives us great hope for the effectiveness of training,” he says.
Dr. Ross and his colleagues are currently using genetic tests, brain imaging (via MRI and EEG studies) and behavioral tests to study multisensory integration in children and adults with and without ASD. Dr. Ross explains that they aim to develop a more comprehensive view of ASD in order to link genetic susceptibility to develop the disorder with the brain mechanisms involved in ASD and their role in multisensory perception.
Results may indicate that the multisensory integration mechanism in children with ASD is not broken beyond repair.
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