Balancing Act

How brain imbalances may lead to autism.

Autism rates continue to alarm parents across the country. A recent report published in the journal Pediatrics found that 110 in 10,000 children are somewhere on the autism spectrum scale.

Perhaps even more alarming is the fact that medical experts cannot fully explain this epidemic. There is not one specific gene that can be linked to autism, and researchers are still trying to learn how and why these issues occur. But headway is being made. Many leading doctors and medical experts are now pointing to brain imbalances, along with the different ways the right-brain and left-brain hemispheres mature and interact, in relation to autism.

For example, we know that children with autism often have symptoms related to a developmental delay in the right side of the brain. We know this because children on the spectrum are generally especially bright and articulate, and do well on verbal tests. However, such children tend to struggle to read nonverbal cues.

Several interesting behaviors associated with autism exist that many people are unaware of further emphasize autism’s link to brain imbalance. Many of children with autism are highly sensitive when it comes to food and picky eaters. Children with autism are also sensory-sensitive and sensory-seeking, meaning they might hate loud noises or bright lights, and be sensitive to sound or touch.

Yet at the same time, these children often speak too loudly and lack self-awareness. They don’t pick up on social cues or readily understand tone of voice. But because the left side of their brain is more active than the right, they tend to be great with science and math and have a phenomenal memory for detail.

Sometimes symptoms prevent the child from being able to pay attention in class. In most cases, however, these kids are highly intelligent and talented, as noted when such issues are treated.

The left side of the brain is also associated with pattern recognition, which could help further explain why children on the spectrum love familiarity and repetition. They don’t like the unfamiliar, and transitions can be difficult. Additionally, a brain imbalance where the right brain is weaker than the left brain could mean that the child continues to act in a certain way, such as a repeating a word or a sound over and over again, because the left hemisphere signals the body to act. If the right brain isn’t strong enough to stop or modify the behavior, children might display repetitive behaviors or tics.

To complicate matters though, there are different levels on the autism spectrum, often generating misdiagnosis as well as other treatment issues.

If you believe that your child might have ADHD or an autism spectrum disorder (ASD), or if a diagnosis has been made and you want a second opinion or to learn more, the first step is to assess the situation. This can be done by deciphering which side of the brain is immature in your child. Once you have identified the area of the brain that is weaker, you can then work to strengthen and stimulate it.

Every child has unique brain chemistry. But as all kids with ASD are right brain deficient, that diagnosis indicates that this is the area to work on strengthening. Remember that medications aren’t a cure and they often only work as a short-term fix to help treat the symptoms of the underlying condition.

Instead, education, research and unique treatment plans are needed for each child on the spectrum. Also imperative is a commitment to more awareness and better information for parents as well as improved assessment, diagnosis and educational programs.