How does it all work? I mean, Asperger’s and the other autism spectrum disorders?
An even more basic question we might want to consider is, “How does the brain work?” For it’s in the brain that our mode of existing and being in the world resides.
In my research on the mechanisms of Aspergers, I came to this conclusion: Scientists don’t really know!
Just as the causes of autism spectrum conditions are not specifically known, neither are the mechanics of how Aspergers work.
There are some hypotheses, however. I’ll share the most recent research with you.
The Study of the Brain and Environment
You can read Wikipedia’s article on this subject to find a much more technically complex explanation. From what I gathered, scientists who study the development of the brain and different environmental factors speculate that there is an abnormal migration of cells during fetal development that may affect the final structure and brain connections. These neural circuits are the mechanisms that control the brain and behavior. Thus, a person on the autism spectrum has different neural circuitry than that of a neurotypical individual.
The Under Connectivity Theory
This theory hypothesizes that certain high-level neural connections do not function and synchronize in the same way that a neurotypical brain does. The research seems to show that there are differences in circuitry spread throughout the brain. Based on this research, scientists posit that individuals on the autism spectrum therefore struggle with putting the big picture of the social environment together. This theory is also known as weak central coherence theory.
Enhanced Perceptual Functioning Theory
This theory builds on the brain differences between neurotypical brains and those on the autism spectrum. It studies differences, showing that the autism brain is more active and more perceptually enhanced in certain areas:
We propose an “Enhanced Perceptual Functioning” model encompassing the main differences between autistic and non-autistic social and non-social perceptual processing: locally oriented visual and auditory perception, enhanced low-level discrimination, use of a more posterior network in “complex” visual tasks, enhanced perception of first order static stimuli, diminished perception of complex movement, autonomy of low-level information processing toward higher-order operations, and differential relation between perception and general intelligence. Increased perceptual expertise may be implicated in the choice of special ability in savant autistics, and in the variability of apparent presentations within PDD (autism with and without typical speech, Asperger syndrome) in non-savant autistics.
Mirror Neuron System Theory
Proponents of this theory hypothesize that the mirror neuron system has been altered during development, thus interfering with the individual’s ability to read social cues or to be able to have a strong sense of self and others within the social environment. Thus, many social cognitive scientists have put together theory of mind, which hypothizes that individuals with autism spectrum condition struggle to be able to ascribe mental states to self and others.
However, in researching this theory, I found a very interesting study that proposes to bring evidence against this theory. You can watch this YouTube video to get a better overview of that study.
Here are two articles I researched for a lot of the information for this article:
Wikipedia’s article on Aspergers Syndrome
photo credit: h.koppedelaney
I’ve only scratched the surface of all the possible explanations of how Asperger’s works from a neuro-anatomical perspective. Please feel free to point out any other research or studies that I missed.