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Autistic Brain Not Damaged Where Researchers Expected

Scientists have long suspected that the fascination many autistic children have with spinning objects and whirling themselves around relates to damage in the cerebellum, the part of the brain that controls movement and equilibrium. Indeed, much research into autism, which affects about one in 500 children in the U.S., has focused on this brain region. But the results of a study published recently in the Journal of Autism and Developmental Disorders indicate that, in fact, the cerebellum is normal in autistic children. Psychiatrist Melissa Goldberg of the Johns Hopkins Children's Center and her colleagues studied 13 high-functioning autistic children ranging in age from seven to 17. Specifically, they examined the subjects' eye movements after spinning them in a chair and then tilting their heads forward when the chair stopped. Normally the reflexive eye movements diminish once the head is tipped forward¿and the autistic children also exhibited this pattern. "This tells us that those parts of the cerebellum that govern our ability to restore balance operate normally in autistic children," Goldberg explains. "Knowing what parts of the brain do not appear damaged in these children, we can move on to investigate other sources of the problem."

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