Autistic Children Process One Sense at a Time

NEW YORK - Ask 16-year-old Austin Miller what it’s like to live with Asberger’s syndrome, and he would describe it as being like a computer that’s running on a different operating system.

Diagnosed at age 12, his mom Karen says she’s always noticed a delay in the way he processed speech.

“I would say something to him and I would say, ‘Austin, did you?’ and then he would start to answer. And so I learned, I have to give him more time,” Karen Miller said.

Now a new study is helping explain why. Headed up by Dr. Mark Wallace, a team at Vanderbilt found what kids with autism see is out of sync with what they hear.

“It’s like a badly dubbed video is the way we describe it,” Dr. Wallace said.

The timing of what they see and what they hear does not sync up.

“And we believe that, that change in the binding of visual and auditory information is sort of the foundation for the problems that they have in things like language and communication and social interactions.” Dr. Wallace said.

Austin agrees with that.

“I think I can see a couple memories where I’m talking to my dad and maybe his mouth just looks a little bit out of sync,” Miller said.

Researchers are building on that knowledge by testing a new interactive video game that’s designed to retrain the brains of those with autism, focusing on how rewards help the brain.

“So it basically takes the tuning of the nervous system and shapes it, so that they get better,” Dr. Wallace said.

The ultimate goal is to help kids like Miller communicate better.

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