Understanding Autism’s Effects on the Brain

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When your brain is busy trying to process information that’s out of the ordinary, it can be hard for you. For example, when a child with autism experiences a new person or an object they may not even notice because their brains are so focused on sorting through too much stimuli. Experts say these struggles still exist today and have implications for other disorders like ADHD or OCD

The “autistic brain vs normal brain scan” is a study that has been done on the brains of autistic children. The study found that there are differences in the brains of those with autism.


Autism is a neurological illness that affects how individuals with the disorder interact with others and the environment. The consequences of autism on the brain vary widely depending on the person and the degree of the illness.

Autism isn’t a one-size-fits-all disorder. It manifests itself as a spectrum, with severe impairment on one end and good functioning on the other. People with severe autism often don’t communicate much, and in some instances are entirely nonverbal. They may suffer from severe intellectual and cognitive disabilities.

Some persons with high-functioning types of autism, on the other hand, have normal or even above-average IQs and can communicate verbally. They may fail to discern subtlety, body language, irony, or subtext despite their talents.

In general, people with autism have difficulty in social interactions. Their obsession with some things might look obsessive, to the expense of other hobbies and social connections. When they’re feeling stressed, they’ll typically engage in repeated routines to help them relax. These actions may be annoying or even harmful at times.

The Autistic Mindset

A postdoctoral fellow at the Center for Autism and Neurodevelopment at Northwestern University’s Feinberg School of Medicine explained to PsyCom in “The Autistic Mindset” that because autism has multiple causes (including environmental factors, genetic attributes, and comorbid neurological and mental conditions), it is difficult to fully assess the effects that the disorder has on the brain.

Looking inside the brains of individuals with autism to see what’s different — and how those abnormalities may be anticipated, controlled, or even “cured” — will not provide straightforward answers. Even with imaging methods showing some detectable changes, there remain challenges in completely separating an autistic brain from a brain without autism with enough sensitivity and specificity to provide a diagnosis or prognosis.

Autism Neuroanatomy

Even the “Autism Neuroanatomy” can defy description, so talking about the structure of the brain tends to reveal more about how autism affects it.

To begin, the brain is divided into two hemispheres (halves), from which the terms “left brain” and “right brain” are derived. In actuality, though, the two hemispheres tend to share thinking and cognitive processes. The link between the two hemispheres in the brain of an autistic person is not as fluid as it is in the brain of a normal person.

A neurotypical individual. Communication isn’t as good as it might be.

The hemispheres of brains with autism spectrum disease are somewhat more symmetrical than those of neurotypical brains, according to recent study, but this difference is insufficient to diagnose autism. Furthermore, it is unknown how the symmetry might contribute to the development of autism symptoms.

What is known is that the left and right brain hemispheres’ generally asymmetrical structure is required for brain organization. Some brain activities are inherently dominated by one side of the brain over the other. Speech and comprehension processes are essential to this issue.

Speech and comprehension are developed in the left hemisphere in the majority of humans (95 percent of right-handed persons and 70% of left-handed people). Autism, on the other hand, is associated with poor leftward linguistic dominance, which may explain why persons with autism are more likely to be left-handed than the general population.

Autism & the Lobes of the Brain

The frontal, parietal, occipital, and temporal lobes are the four lobes that make up each hemisphere of the brain. Structures that regulate everything the body does, from movement to thinking, are found inside these lobes. The cerebral cortex, which sits on top of the lobes, is where information is processed.

The surface area of the cerebral cortex determines how much information the brain can process. To increase the surface area of the cerebral cortex, the brain possesses folds. San Diego State University researchers discovered evidence that the folds grow differently in patients with autism. There is a lot more folding in the left and right lobes of autistic brains.

The alterations have been linked to changes in neuronal network connections. The deeper the folds, the weaker the link. Language generation and processing have been shown to be affected in other studies.

Yet, says PsyCom, the neurobiology of an autistic brain is still hidden. Some experts have said that the more they study brains affected by autism, the more they realize that “it may not be so much about the hardware [of the brain] as the software.” It may be that the timing of the brain activity is different, affecting how the signals from one region of the brain being sent to another get distorted. It might be that as The Autistic Mindset ages, the aging process brings about more changes that impact the development of autistic symptoms.

Information Processing

Persons with autism spectrum disorder have brains that absorb and process information differently than neurotypical people, according to other study. Autistic brains have less coordinated activity, according to research, but it’s unclear if individual brain areas perform differently as well.

Persons with autism process information in their brains in a different way than people without autism. In autism, for example, the brain as a whole displays less coordinated activity. However, it’s unclear if particular brain areas perform differently in autism.

Autism patients’ sensory parts of the brain showed substantially more random activity than neurotypical people’s brains, according to a 2017 research published in eLife. The more severe the case of autism, the more erratic the behavior. According to researchers, persons with autism have brains that are unable to retain and process sensory data in the same manner or for the same period of time as non-autistic brains.

The caudate, a brain area involved for storing and processing memories (using data from previous experiences to guide future behavior, which is key in the formation and application of language), reacted in the opposite manner for those with autism, according to the 2017 research. In autistic people’s brains, activity in that area was far more predictable. The more rigid and repeated a person’s conduct was, the more predictable the caudate activity in their brain became. This is most likely due to variances in the unpredictability of neuronal activity caused by changes in the anatomy of different brain areas.

Stimulation using magnets

Small brain areas suffer changes in activity and structure, according to the researchers behind the eLife study, and these alterations are what leads to the development of complex autistic symptoms. Understanding these brain alterations might aid physicians in diagnosing autism far earlier in a person’s life.

It is not yet known whether the differences in the brain activity directly cause the symptoms of autism or whether they simply correlate to autistic symptoms. If there is a direct relationship between brain activity and autism symptoms, the researchers suggested that it might be possible to change brain activity (via Stimulation using magnets to the scalp) to potentially reduce the severity of the symptoms.

Other studies have also suggested transcranial Stimulation using magnets (TMS) to ease the symptoms of autism. Even though initial investigations have been promising, scientists have noted that “there is simply not enough evidence to conclusively support the clinical widespread use of TMS in ASD.” This limitation also extends to other forms of treatment that try to address the effects autism has on the brain.

Connections in the Brain

Additional hypotheses on the impact of autism on the brain have been proposed by other researchers. A professor of radiology at the University of Utah Health argued in Medical News Today that autistic people’s brains “are not as effective at fast changing between concepts or thoughts,” causing them to be upset by unexpected stimuli or disruptions in routine and habits. A typical symptom of autism spectrum disorder is a fear of change.

Not unlike the researchers in the eLife study, the professor and his colleagues (who had their findings published in JAMA Network Open) learned that for people with autism, the circuits in their brain were subjected to “overly persistent Connections in the Brain.” Using a novel fMIR method to look at brain activity, the researchers at Utah discovered connections exist for longer than they do for neurotypical people (up to 20 seconds). The result of this extended period of connectivity is that the brain cannot easily switch between processes. Additionally, people on the autism spectrum showed an increase in the severity of their symptoms when the connectivity of their brain’s circuits occurred for this extended duration.

According to the study’s primary author, autistic persons with higher degrees of social dysfunction “had an increase in synched activity in their scans.” However, the study only included male participants, and there is no way of knowing if female autistic people would have the same brain patterns and reactions.

Autistic brains have a higher rate of miscommunication.

“Too many Connections in the Brain may be at the root” of autism was Science Daily’s summary of a study from the Washington University School of Medicine. Researchers found a defective gene that influenced how neurons connect to and communicate with each other. Studies on animals that lacked the gene also showed too many connections existing between those key brain neurons and difficulties with learning and memory.

The results lead the Washington University researchers to speculate that autistic symptoms might be caused by issues with how brain cells interact with one another, namely that “there may be too many synapses in the brains of people with autism.” Instead of helping the brain perform better, the study’s principal author noted that having more synapses causes more miscommunication between neurons. Learning problems result as a result of this, although the mechanics behind the issue aren’t entirely understood.

The Brain & Genes

Autism has been linked to a number of genes, but six of them attach ubiquitin, a chemical tag, to proteins. These genes instruct the rest of the cell on how to deal with the tagged proteins, such as discarding them, moving them to a different section of the cell, or increasing or decreasing their activity. Autism patients may have a mutation that prevents one of the ubiquitin genes from working properly. Again, it is unclear how abnormalities with protein tagging impact the wiring and function of the brain to the extent where autism develops.

Animal experiments in which the ubiquitin gene was deleted from the cerebellum of young mice were part of the researchers’ study. The cerebellum is one of the primary brain areas that is impacted by autism in humans. It controls voluntary motions such as speech, coordination, balance, and motor control, as well as higher cognitive skills like as attention and language. People with autism frequently have delayed language development and a hyper-focused interest in a particular issue, to the point where they don’t notice anybody or anything else around them.

Understanding Autism’s Complicated Effects

Other study has backed up the hypothesis that “cerebellum abnormalities […] are linked to autism.” According to a study published in Frontiers in Systems Neuroscience, impaired circuitry activity in the cerebellum may play a role in autism symptoms such as restricted motor function and cognitive deficits, particularly in the areas of attention span, language development, and executive functioning.

Because “autism spectrum disease is multifaceted,” according to PsyCom, much remains unclear regarding autism’s impact on the brain, and what is known looks patchwork or even inconsistent. Even when specialists respond to certain concerns regarding what autism causes to the brain, other questions about other effects, how these effects lead to the development of autistic symptoms, and even wider issues concerning the complete spectrum of the human brain’s functioning are posed.

We’ll continue to learn more about autism’s impact on the brain as more study is committed to the issue.


The Autistic Mindset. (May 2020). PsyCom.

Why Do Autistic People Have a More Symmetrical Brain? (Updated November 2019) News and research in the field of neuroscience.

Although there are more left-handers in the autism spectrum disorder than in the general population, the fact that there are so many mixed-handers is the more intriguing finding. (Updated September 2018). The Journal of Autism and Developmental Disorders is a publication dedicated to the study of autism and developmental disorders.

Children with autism have unusual folding patterns in their brains. (July of this year). Scientific American is a publication dedicated to science.

What Effects Does Autism Have on the Brain? (In February of this year). eLife.

Use of Transcranial Stimulation using magnets in Autism Spectrum Disorders. (February 2016). Journal of Autism and Developmental Disorders.

In the Brain, What Does Autism Look Like? (Updated November 2018). Today’s Medical News

In Autism, Too Many Connections in the Brain May Be at Root of Condition. (November 2017). Science Daily.

In Autism Spectrum Disorders, Proteostasis is disrupted (2016). The Journal of Neurochemistry is a peer-reviewed journal that publishes

Is Autism Caused by a Cerebellar Disorder? Clinical and pre-clinical research are combined. (April 2013). Frontiers in Systems Neuroscience is a journal that publishes research in the field of systems neuroscience

In Autism, the Effects of Age on Brain Volume and Head Circumference (July 2002). Neurology.

Big Brains Could Provide Insight into Autism’s Origins. (Updated February 2016). Spectrum.

The visual system may provide a glimpse into the effects of autism on the brain. (Updated October 2016). Spectrum.

A Defect in Brain Immune Cells Could Explain Males With Autism’s Social Impairments (In April of 2020). Scripps Research is a company that does research.

Autism Is Caused by Too Many Synapses, According to a Brain Study In August of 2014, Autism Speaks is a non-profit organization dedicated to raising awareness about

“How does autism affect a person?” is a question that is often asked. Autism has been shown to have an effect on the brain, which can cause many different symptoms. Reference: how does autism affect a person.

Frequently Asked Questions

How does autism affect your brain?

A: Autistic brains have been shown to process information in a completely different way that the average person. This means they can perform tasks like memorizing and retrieving memories much easier than normal, but are also able to understand emotions or read facial expressions better.

What part of the brain is damaged in autism?

A: The part of the brain called the amygdala. It is a key area for social and emotional processing, reward learning, and fear responses.

How are autistic peoples brains different?

A: Your brains are different because you have autism. There is no single brain structure or function that distinguishes an autistic individual, but instead the experience of being autistic causes changes in a number of areas. These include differences in cognitive ability and a reduced capacity for empathy.

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