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A Gentle-Touch Hypothesis for Autism

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70 million people have some form of autism?!

Earlier studies have also linked these three brain regions to autism, a complex spectrum of disorders whose features typically include impaired communication, poor social engagement and repetitive behaviors. Many of the 70 million people who fall on the autism spectrum also have trouble processing visual, tactile and other sensory information. An Autism Research study in 2012 found that brain regions responsible for sensory processing in individuals with autism had dampened responses to pleasant and neutral textures, and heightened responses to unpleasant textures.

Could autism be the result of a touch system gone haywire? 

McGlone thinks it’s possible. When gentle strokes activate CT afferents, we experience pleasant, rewarding feelings, making us more likely to seek such caresses in the future — a beneficial behavior, McGlone says, since these touches might play a crucial role in social development, especially early in life. For example, cuddling can facilitate mother-child bonding, essential for children’s well-being and survival. But gentle touch wiring, including CT afferent signaling, might go awry in autism. “It’s like building the Taj Mahal,” McGlone said. “If you don’t lay the foundation down, there will be consequences later on.”

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