Many families today struggle with autism. Health experts are finding ways and means to be able to better understand the condition so that ideal intervention measures may be implemented. New research found that one of the things that may play a critical role in this illness is the nerves, particularly those that control sensory perception.
A study published in the online issue of Neurology, titled, "Small fiber pathology in autism and clinical implications," suggested that the peripheral nervous system, which is the system that controls the sense of pain, touch, and other sensations, play a role in this neurologic illness.
Lead author Dr Sun-Tsang Hsieh, a fellow of the American Academy of Neurology, stated that more than 70 percent of people suffering from autism show differences in their sensory perceptions. He explained that for some individuals, the lightest touch could become unbearable. Others would not even feel anything even if they already have a cut on their toe. If there would be larger studies on the matter, it might help experts understand how the disorder would develop and then shed more light on treating the range of distressing symptoms that patients feel.
The study looked into 32 men, with an average age of 27, suffering from autism. Researchers then compared them to 27 men and women, not suffering from autism, with an average age of 33.
Those who had autism were tasked to complete questionnaires that pertained to their sensory symptoms. All the participants underwent tests on their sensory nerves. Skin biopsies were done in order to detect any damage to the nerves' fibers. Another test was applying heat pulses on the skin. The electrical signals that were produced by the nerves were recorded by researchers to determine how they respond to heat.
The researchers found that there was a 53 percent reduction in nerve fibers of those with autism, while the control group indicated normal levels. Those who recorded lower nerve fiber density reported feeling pain from the heat stimulus given at higher temperatures, compared to the control group.
Hsieh noted that the results of the test indicate the degeneration of nerves. This is similar to those who suffer from peripheral neuropathy. In this group, their threshold for feeling sensations and heat is higher compared to others.
The response to touch of those who have autism varies depending on whether they have nerve damage or not. People with normal nerves would indicate that they get uncomfortable with certain textures, but those with nerve fiber damage had a higher chance of showing preference to going barefoot as they would not notice whether they already get scratched or bruised.