According to an article in Neuroscience News, a study conducted by researchers at the Stanford University School of Medicine and Lucile Packard Children’s Hospital determined “children with autism and average IQs consistently demonstrated superior math skills compared [to] non-autistic children in the same IQ range.” Vinod Menon, PhD, professor of psychiatry and behavioral sciences – and a member of the Child Health Research Institute at Packard Children’s Hospital – noted “there appears to be a unique pattern of brain organization that underlies superior problem-solving abilities [in some autistic children].”
The study was designed such that participants solved math problems while their brain activity was measured in an MRI scanner. Brain scans of autistic children revealed an unusual pattern of activity in the ventral temporal occipital cortex an area known to process visual objects, including faces.
Menon added that previous research “focused almost exclusively on weaknesses in children with autism. Our study supports the idea that the atypical brain development in autism can lead, not just to deficits, but also to some remarkable cognitive strengths. We think this can be reassuring to parents.”
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Menon is senior author of the study, published online in Biological Psychiatry. Postdoctoral scholar Teresa Luculano, PhD, is the lead author.
Other Stanford co-authors are postdoctoral scholars Miriam Rosenberg-Lee, PhD, and Kaustubh Supekar, PhD; social science research assistants Charles Lynch and Amirah Khouzam; Jennifer Phillips, PhD, clinical associate professor of psychiatry and behavioral sciences and a clinical psychologist at Packard Children’s; and Lucina Uddin, PhD, instructor in psychiatry and behavioral sciences.
The study was funded by grants from the Singer Foundation, the Stanford Institute for Neuro-Innovation & Translational Neurosciences, and the National Institutes of Health (grant MH084164).