During a delightful day of professional development in Minnesota, we engaged in a fascinating conversation about the way memories are formed, stored and recalled in the brain. We talked about the thalamus, amygdala, sensory cortices, working memory, cerebral cortex … you name it, we talked about it. Or so I thought.
Then the question about autism and other disorders came up. I am a teacher by trade, not a neuroscientist, so I was unable to share an in-depth response to an often-asked question. I was curious, so I hit the books. Here is my best attempt at summarizing the information I’ve read to those of us who interact with students all day, not rats.
Basically, we have not labeled the part of the brain that is most closely connected to autism in our Quantum Learning for Teachers training, yet. We had finished Level 2, and have three more levels to go. Most of the research I’ve read on autism points to the cerebellum. Development of this part of the brain is abnormal in autism. The cerebellum is located below the visual cortex and is mostly responsible for sensory perception, motor control and coordination. In his book, How the Brain Learns, David Sousa mentions that recent studies indicate the cerebellum also supports limbic system functions and cognitive processes in the frontal lobe. (PS – the amygdala is in the limbic system.)
There is also research available that also connects autism to a dysregulation of certain amygdala functions. Specifically, some research suggests the amygdala is under-responsive with autism. This helps us understand the social impairments often seen in autism.
We explore more of the limbic system in Level 3 of Quantum Learning so hopefully more clarification will come then. We’ll take a look at the role of the hippocampus (yes, that is really what it is called) and it’s role in the limbic sytem of the brain. It too has some connection to autism.