What Parts of the Brain Does Autism Affect?

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Autism affects many parts of the brain, including the fore-brain limbic system and the cerebellum, which processes motor skills. Find out why the changes in the brain that are a result from autism occur during prenatal development with help from a practicing pediatrician in this free video on pediatrics and autism.

Part of the Video Series: Autism & Pediatric Diseases
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Video Transcript

Hi, I'm Dr. David Hill, and today, we're going to be talking about what parts of the brain autism affects. The fact is autism affects a lot of the brain. There are probably too many parts to name in a piece of this length, but we'll get to the big parts. One of the most global things we understand has to do with brain growth in autism. Autistic children's brains seem to grow very rapidly over the course of the first year of life, but then that growth slows down dramatically and by the time they're later into childhood, we find that their brains are either normal in volume or even smaller than comparable brains. We do know several specific areas of the brain that are especially impacted by autism, and the important thing to realize is that the changes we see in autistic brains do not arise, for the most part, after birth. These are changes that have to occur during prenatal development in the first and second trimesters of life. And for that reason, while symptoms of autism may present later in life in the second year, for example, the problems that led to those symptoms almost inevitably had to occur in the womb. One of the most profoundly affected areas is called the forebrain limbic system. It's up here, and it controls emotions and emotional responses. We also see affects that occur within the parts of the brain that process language. The cerebellum processes motor skills, walking, running, fine motor skills like using a pencil. And we see some pretty profound changes in the cerebellum, which we think explains some of the coordination issues that we see in autism. There can even be changes in the parts of the brain that control autonomic response -- the brain stem. That's what regulates your blood pressure and your breathing and your heart rate. But even that part of the brain is affected. There is a longer and more technical list, and you're welcome to go to the Internet and look for all the pieces of the brain that autism affects, but the key thing to understand is that it really is a global developmental problem of the brain that seems to start before babies are born and is most easily picked up by measuring head size throughout life. Talking about the parts of the brain that autism affects, I'm Dr. David Hill.


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