Neuro research – Ouch! There #Ifixedit – Enhanced Hemispheric Symmetry of White Matter Microstructure in Autism

picture of two people facing each other, person on the left has a gray brain, person on the right has a rainbow colored brainSo, I came across an article from the Huff Post, earlier today, talking about how autistic folks’ brains are actually more symmetrical than neurotypical brains. That’s interesting. I followed the link to the original research paper, and this is what it said:

Reduced Hemispheric Asymmetry of White Matter Microstructure in Autism Spectrum Disorder.

OBJECTIVE:

Many past studies have suggested atypical functional and anatomical hemispheric asymmetries in autism spectrum disorder (ASD). However, almost all of these have examined only language-related asymmetries. Here, we conduct a comprehensive investigation of microstructural asymmetries across a large number of fiber tracts in ASD.

METHOD:

We used diffusion tensor imaging for a comprehensive investigation of anatomical white matter asymmetries across the entire white matter skeleton, using tract-based spatial statistics in 41 children and adolescents with ASD and a matched group of 44 typically developing (TD) participants.

RESULTS:

We found significant asymmetries in the TD group, being rightward for fractional anisotropy and leftward for mean diffusivity (with concordant asymmetries for radial and axial diffusivity). These asymmetries were significantly reduced in the group with ASD: in whole brain analysis for fractional anisotropy, and in a region where several major association and projection tracts travel in close proximity within occipital white matter for mean diffusivity, axial diffusivity, and radial diffusivity. No correlations between global white matter asymmetry and age or socio-communicative abilities were detected.

CONCLUSION:

Our findings in TD children and adolescents can be interpreted as reflecting different processing modes (more integrative in the right and more specialized in the left hemisphere). These asymmetries and the “division of labor” between hemispheres implied by them appear to be diminished in autism spectrum disorder.

Sigh. I mean, the language used is standard-issue “disorder” stuff, complete with using neurotypical folks as the control, and comparing us autistic folks to them. What, I wondered, would the abstract read like, if it were phrased differently? Granted, it’s not a huge change, and it doesn’t shift the world on its axis (and to non-autistic people who don’t have the level of attention to detail that we’ve got, it probably wouldn’t even register), but it does read differently. To whit:

Enhanced Hemispheric Symmetry of White Matter Microstructure in Autism.

OBJECTIVE:

Many past studies have suggested unique functional and anatomical hemispheric asymmetries in Autism. However, almost all of these have examined only language-related asymmetries. Here, we conduct a comprehensive investigation of microstructural asymmetries across a large number of fiber tracts in Autism.

METHOD:
We used diffusion tensor imaging for a comprehensive investigation of anatomical white matter asymmetries across the entire white matter skeleton, using tract-based spatial statistics in 41 Autistic children and adolescents and a matched group of 44 non-autistic (NA) participants.

RESULTS:
We found significant asymmetries in the NA group, being rightward for fractional anisotropy and leftward for mean diffusivity (with concordant asymmetries for radial and axial diffusivity). Symmetries were significantly enhanced in the Autistic group: in whole brain analysis for fractional anisotropy, and in a region where several major association and projection tracts travel in close proximity within occipital white matter for mean diffusivity, axial diffusivity, and radial diffusivity. No correlations between global white matter asymmetry and age or socio-communicative abilities were detected.

CONCLUSION:
The differences between Autistic and Non-Autistic children and adolescents can be interpreted as reflecting different processing modes. NA participants showed disproportionately more integrative in the right versus more specialized in the left hemisphere in, while brain activity in the Autistic participants showed more equally balanced the “division of labor” between hemispheres. Autistic children and adolescents appear to have more symmetrically connected brains.

See what I mean?

Just a different choice of words can make the whole thing read differently — and depathologize the whole concept of Autism. That would do wonders for the situation, in my opinion. Just stopping the assumption that the “norm” is the best, just stopping the talk about deficiencies, just stopping the use of words that totally disregard the chance that differences might just be good things. Just using words that call out the positives, rather than focusing on the negatives. Stop talking about what’s “reduced” and talk about what’s enhanced.

Of course, taking a positive approach — declaring that autistic folks are actually okay, we just function differently — doesn’t get grant money. It doesn’t get funded by people who are trying to save the human race from the scourge epidemic known as “Autism Spectrum Disorder”. It’s much more lucrative if you strike fear in the hearts of people, and then point them in a direction that might “solve” the terrible problem you’ve just identified. It’s typical marketing mentality, and in the intense academic atmosphere that a lot of researchers are under, I’m sure striking a dramatic note for the sake of procuring funding is one way to ensure your continued survival in what’s become a cut-throat industry.

But still.

It would be awesome if we could find a way to talk about autism in ways other than deficits and disorders. that would be awesome. Even more awesome, would  be talking about autism with pride. Imagine that.

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13 thoughts on “Neuro research – Ouch! There #Ifixedit – Enhanced Hemispheric Symmetry of White Matter Microstructure in Autism

  1. more fuel to the neuropride movement. 🙂
    i refuse allowing my neurodiversity issues being overly pathologized and lumped under “mental health” when the actual ND/NT differences are clear to be seen in pictures. too bad the medical fields have too many persons without autism working there.

    Liked by 1 person

  2. This field was intentionally left blank

    Reblogged this on the silent wave and commented:

    Another gem from Visual Vox, aka “Aspie Under Your Radar”! In this post, she brilliantly illustrates the difference between the so-so hum-drum pathology-based language when referring to autism, and a theoretical rewrite that utilizes more progressive, positive (and actually, more accurate) terminology. This sort of shift IS possible and it WOULD benefit EVERYONE. Now if only the medical/scientific community (at large) could put their egos on a shelf and get to objective, non-biased science and just describe What Is. This post is an awesome planted seed! Definitely a recommended read, especially if you’re in the mood for something constructive 🙂 ❤

    Liked by 1 person

  3. “Autistic children and adolescents appear to have more symmetrically connected brains.”
    And that seems to be the big problem with us, i.e. the well known multitasking capacity of the otherwise rather compartmentalised monofunctional areas of our brains. Interesting enough, many of us are incapable of practical multitasking, exactly because our analytical capacities are not confined to monospecialised brain areas, but several areas analyse simultaneously the same incoming stream of data, hence the capacity to see what NTs can’t.
    Oh, and that might be the problem…

    Liked by 1 person

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