On page 75 in his excellent and exciting book, "The Brain the Changes Itself, Stories of Personal Triumph from the Frontiers of Brain Science", Doidge speaks to an interesting and unexpected side effect of using a Posit Science Brain Fitness Program called Fast ForWard.
Autistic children who were trained on Fast ForWard reported improvements in autistic symptoms, which was not the purpose of their Fast ForWard training, and the reports inspired Michael Merzenich, the creator of the Fast ForWard program to devote some attention to autism, and his ideas are fascinating to me.
His work involves the study of brain maps, growth hormones, and over stimulation of the auditory cortex, which leaves autistic kids with brain maps for sounds which are not discriminatory.
In other words, autistic kids hear all sounds at once. They never got the chance to learn how to move sounds from foreground to background,for example, during critical periods of brain growth.
This is how Doidge describes it, on p. 81. "During the critical period, he argues, some situations overexcite the neurons in children who have genes that predispose them to autism, leading to massive, premature release of BDNF. Instead of important connections being reinforced, all connections are. So much BDNF is released that it turns off the critical period prematurely, sealing all those connections in place, and the child is left with scores of undifferentiated brain maps and hence pervasive developmental disorders. Their brains are hyperexcitable and hypersensitive. If they hear one frequency, the whole auditory cortex starts firing...."and this kind of hypersensitivity can extend to touch and feel. Merzenich's theory also explains the high rate of epilepsy in autism: because of BDNF release, the brain maps are poorly differentiated , and because so many connections in the brain have been indiscriminately reinforced, once a few neurons start firing, the whole brain can be set off.
It also explains why autistic children have bigger brains-the substance also increases the fatty coating around the neurons.
If BDNF release was contributing to autism and language problems, Merzenich needed to understand what might cause your neurons to get "overexcited" and release massive amounts of the chemical.
Several studies alerted him to how an environmental stimulus might contribute.
The Posit Science Program discussed by Norman Doidge, MD, in his book, The Brain That Changes Itself.
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