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Autism: Scientists at Trinity College Dublin make breakthrough that could improve social skills

Scientists at Trinity College Dublin have made a significant breakthrough which could help improve the social skills of people with an Autism Spectrum Disorder (ASD).

A team of international researchers based in the college have discovered activity in an area in the brain which may explain why people on the spectrum may “endure social deficits and fail to respond appropriately when unexpected events unfold”.

These 'social deficits' can translate into difficulties for people with autism in everyday interactions such as holding a conversation, play and other social interactions.

Dr Joshua Henk Balsters, the lead on the project, hopes the research will lead to new therapies which will make a real difference in the lives of people with autism.

“Whenever we have spoken with parents of children with autism [difficulties with] interaction is something that parents find very sad or very difficult,” he told Independent.ie.

More work is needed but the researcher believes he and his team have discovered a key marker for why this is a particular problem for people with ASD.

The research focused on people’s “ability to track the expectations of others”.

“We know that that’s something that people with autism have problems with, disambiguating  their perspective with others,” he said.

“It’s difficult to interact with other people if you can’t understand them a little bit or their point of view.”

“The ability to understand how other people make decisions and what happens to them as a result is key to successful social interaction,” Dr Balsters said.

“Unfortunately, individuals with ASD often find it very difficult to understand why the decisions of other people have the consequences that they do, and this can lead to social problems in everyday life.”

An area of the brain called the gyrus of the anterior cingulate cortex (ACCg) signals when something surprising takes place but this does not happen to people with an ASD.

The international team, which comprises scientists from Switzerland, Ireland, and the UK has just published the research findings in the journal Brain.

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