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Brain scans of children with autism studied

| Friday, Aug. 16, 2013, 8:33 p.m.
In this photo provided by the family, Andrew Ashline, who has autism, looks towards the ocean at Laguna Beach, Calif., in June 2012. (AP Photo/Jo Ashline)

SAN JOSE, Calif. — Stanford University researchers have unearthed clues about the formidable brains of some autistic children, suggesting that the diagnosis may signal a different cognitive style, not disability.

Superior math skills were found in autistic San Francisco Bay area children with average intelligence compared with matched children who were not autistic.

The two groups' brain scans were different as well. Images of the autistic children's brains while calculating math problems revealed a different pattern of activity from those of non-autistic children.

This small but important study, the first of its type, “makes us better aware of the unique talents that these people have, which could help them have better academic and professional lives,” said postdoctoral scholar Teresa Iuculano, lead author of the study.

“We think it could be reassuring for parents,” she said. The study is being published online Saturday in the journal Biological Psychiatry.

Like all people with autism, the children had difficulty with social interactions. But they showed strengths as well, according to the team of scientists at the Stanford University School of Medicine and Lucile Packard Children's Hospital.

“It is not necessarily a deficient brain, but a different brain,” said Iuculano.

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