encourages eye contactsomething autistic people
is a spectrum of developmental disorders characterized by
the inability to form social relationships. Symptoms usually
appear around eighteen months of age. At an age when a child
should be the most delighted by and engaged in his or her
surroundings, autism sends up a seemingly impenetrable wall
between the child and the outside world.
Dawson seeks to help break down that wall with specialized
intensive therapies. In "Breaking the Shell," Alan meets one
of Dawson's patients, two-and-a-half-year-old Tariq, who seems
to be benefiting from the twenty-plus hours of therapy he
receives each week. During his sessions, his tutor encourages
eye contactsomething autistic children routinely avoidwhile
trying to get Tariq to imitate her actions. If he doesn't,
she mimics his to help reinforce the connection between his
behavior and her own.
Brain scans reveal marked differences
between normal and autistic brains.
better understand why autistic children have difficulty relating
to other people, Dawson fits an autistic child with an electrode
cap, then reads his brain signals as he's shown images of
facesone of a stranger, one of his mother. A normal
child's brain responds quite differently to the two images.
But the autistic child's brain reacts the same way to both
imagesthough the child himself does recognize his own
mother. At the University of Washington, other brain scans
reveal that the autistic brain is actually larger than a normal
one, with a disproportionately oversized amygdala, the region
that processes emotion.
are just beginning to unravel the connection between these
findings and the cause of autism. Until more is known, Dawson
hopes early intervention will allow Tariq and children like
him to develop language skills and be able to lead as normal
lives as possible.
more on this topic, see the web feature:
Experiences With Autism
A Dangerous Choice