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There is still so much that we do not know about autism spectrum disorder—from why it has increased in prevalence in the past decade to how to treat those who are affected. Autism is defined as, “a neural disorder characterized by poor social interaction, problems in verbal and non-verbal communication, and restrictive, repetitive behavior.” Using these common characteristics seen in people on the spectrum, researchers are now looking into studying solitary mammals as a means to better understand the disorder.
A recently published article in the Journal of Comparative Psychology argues that certain mammals exhibit similar behavior to that typically seen from people with autism. Some of these mammals include polar bears, opossums, skunks, tigers, cougars, and orangutans. Though many of them do have some social behavior they tend to function more independently. According to researcher Jared Edward Reser, both people on the spectrum and solitary mammals have a smaller need for attachment and bonding behaviors, lower stress from separation, and less expressiveness. Biologically the two groups are also similar in that they both produce lower level of oxytocin and vasopressin, which are two hormones that play a large role in social bonding and feelings of attachment. For example, oxytocin is released into the body during positive social interaction, which is responsible for the feelings of closeness we experience with others.
A previous study that used oxytocin injections on
Using this comparative research can be controversial, though researchers acknowledge that only a certain autistic behaviors can be studied and explained by using these comparisons. Autism involves a variety of symptoms and no single animal model could possibly be enough to understand autistic individuals, but it can provide new insight and points for research. Reser points out that it may give us new perspectives on how we look at autistic behavior. “Are the different behaviors we label as being autistic necessarily pathological or are there advantages involved, especially in modern society?” Many scientists as well as autism advocacy groups realize that autistic people can be very successful, especially in fields such as computer programming, mathematics, and physics, therefore continuing to treat them as mentally ill can be counterproductive to our society.
Helping children with autism by providing them with therapy and specific attention to their needs has been a successful and alternative form of “treatment”. So by studying these solitary animals, perhaps we can gain insight into the biology of social interaction, “we can also recognize the need to accept that humans vary widely in terms of how they deal with others.” Dr Eric Hollander,chairman of ICare4Autism Advisory Council, professor of psychiatry and behavioral sciences at Albert Einstein and Director of the ASD Program at Montefiore Medical Center does similar research especially with studying social attachment and the biology behind social interaction as it relates to ASD. He is committed to finding best practices that will help advance the lives of children and adults who are on the spectrum. In an interview with Medscape he says, “Studying autism is really a great opportunity because if you understand what goes wrong in autism, you understand a little bit more about what makes people human. It gives you insight into issues around being able to see things from other people’s perspectives and issues around social attachment, which are really what makes us human.”
Dr. Hollander has been listed in NY Magazine and Castle Connolly’s as one of the “Best Doctors in America” and has done several interviews for the New York Times, the Today Show, and Dateline NBC. He will be giving the opening remarks at our upcoming International Autism Conference as well as presenting on Day 2, which focuses on biomedical research and new developments in autism treatments. For the opportunity to hear him speak, get more information and register for the conference HERE!
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