Why is it so hard to look them in the eye?

There is an ongoing debate about why people with autism avoid eye contact.  There is data to support both, but as this behavior emerges very early, it’s important to look at data from preverbal children to understand the origins of changes in eye contact.  Many scientists also feel that avoiding eye contact snowballs over the lifespan and deprives people with autism from developing social skills.  Infants don’t even know why they avoid eye contact so at the Marcus Autism Center in Atlanta, researchers are using eye tracking technology to answer this question.  The findings have clear implications for early intervention strategies.

What came first? Impaired social behaviors or something else that changes social behavior?

This week is a more philosophical, ideological discussion of the origins of social behaviors inspired by review articles written by Mayada Elsabbagh at McGill University and Boaz Barak and Guoping Feng at MIT. The focus of these papers are: when social behaviors emerge, and what brain regions are responsible for their existence. While Dr. Elsabbagh thinks of the question in terms of when behaviors and symptoms emerge in infancy, Drs. Barak and Feng consider the issue by comparing autism to Williams Syndrome. Williams Syndrome is very similar to autism except people with WS are hyper social and empathetic and sometimes gregarious. One tiny change on one area of one gene makes all the difference. This podcast doesn’t settle the question, but hopefully shows you listeners why there is a debate and how it is important for people with autism.