Autistic people daydream differently

By HSC Staff Writer • Published: August 15th, 2006
Category: Health in a Heartbeat

Daydreaming is an easy way to escape the daily grind of life.

But for some parts of your brain, it’s hard work.

Self-reflective thoughts activate a group of brain structures called the medial cortical network.

In normal people, this network is suppressed by goal-oriented thinking.

But it’s a different story for people with autism, a condition that interferes with communication and social skills.

For these individuals, the medial cortical network is always switched on, according to a study published recently in the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences.

In the study, researchers used magnetic resonance imaging to examine the brains of fourteen healthy volunteers and fifteen others with autism or a closely related disorder.

Both groups performed counting exercises, including some designed to slow reaction time by making volunteers sift through unnecessary, confusing information.

In autistic volunteers, the medial cortical network remained active during the exercises.

Why wasn’t the network suppressed? The researchers believe mental processes that normally occur during rest are absent or abnormal in autistic people.

If that’s true, autistic people might not daydream quite like the rest of us.

Because they have great interest in structured items such as schedules and maps, autistic people might muse about these things, rather than their own experiences or plans.

Further studies might show whether that’s an accurate assessment.

More importantly, understanding more about the way autistic people experience the world could help doctors develop treatments that enable them to function better.

That’s a dream we can all share.