Why autistic people hate being hugged

A new study by Anis Contractor, assistant professor of physiology and colleagues at the Northwestern University Feinberg School of Medicine, suggests that in fragile X syndrome, a genetic defect that is the best-known cause of autism, there is delayed development of the sensory cortex, the part of the brain that responds to touch. This delay may trigger a domino effect and cause further problems with the correct wiring of the brain.

Working with a mouse model of fragile X, the researchers discovered the sensory cortex was late to mature by recording the electrical signals flowing through the animals' synapses. This provided a snapshot of when and how this part of the brain was developing. The ability of the brain to correctly process incoming information is based on the correct development of these synapses.

The resulting sensory overload in people with fragile X causes social withdrawal, hyperarousal and anxiety. It shows up in early infancy and progressively worsens throughout childhood. People with this syndrome have ‘tactile defensiveness’. They don't look in people's eyes, they won't hug their parents, and they are hypersensitive to touch and sound. All of this causes anxiety for family and friends as well as for the fragile X patients themselves.

Researchers believe that they have the first understanding of what goes wrong in the brain and thus a target for a therapy to fix the incorrect development.

The study will be published in the Feb. 11 issue of the journal Neuron.

Courtesy of Medical News Today


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First Published in Febuary 2011

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