Autism is a neuro-biological developmental disorder that’s associated with a range of developmental problems, mainly with social interaction impairment, speech and language deficits and restricted and repetitive pattern of behaviors. I have been intrigued by the miraculous, resilient capability of the brain to develop new connections and functions. We call this ability brain plasticity.
An increasing number of studies detail how the brain can reorganize its neural circuits to develop such activities as language, reading and social tasks. Several neuroscience studies are pointing out that social interaction impairment, one of the symptom domains in autism, may be a result of a dysfunctional frontostriatal limbic system. Frontostriatal circuits are neural pathways that connect frontal lobe regions with the basal ganglia that mediate motor, cognitive, behavioral and emotional processes within the brain (Alexander et al., 1986, 1990). Imaging studies sustain that the anatomy of the frontostriatal limbic system is abnormal in individuals with autism spectrum disorder (Courchesne and Pierce, 2005).
Findings using fMRI support the hypothesis that stimulation of the frontostriatal and frontolimbic reward system induced by behavioral reinforcement may make changes in cerebral function that lead to improvement in social interaction.
It would be interesting to further study the correlation of the behavioral reinforcement during cognitive tasks achievement and social interaction tasks and brain activation. One new experiment successfully shows how individuals with Asperger’s disorders can improve their social interaction behavior deficits by activation of areas in the brain responsible for attention and arousal by behavioral reinforcement (Schmitz, et. al., 2008).
Based on brain plasticity, there are emerging therapeutic options that integrate applied behavioral analysis and cerebral stimulation for the treatment of individuals with autism.For example, some studies have shown that behavioral intervention and neuro-stimulation (e.g. Neurofeedback, brain gym and auditory integration training) especially during the pre-school period could impact neural systems related to several symptom domains such as verbal behavior and hyperactivity ( Bock & Goode, 2003).
Below is an illustration of a case of brain plasticity.