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People with autism often display a complex and confusing range of symptoms, including hypersensitivity to sound, problems interacting with others and repetitive behaviours.
Scientist have long wondered what all these — and other, seemingly unrelated symptoms — have in common.
Now MIT researchers are testing a brand new theory: that autistic children have difficulties predicting what is going to happen next, and it’s this problem that is at the root of autism (Sinha et al., 2014).
Without the ability to predict simple events, to an autistic child, life seems to happen randomly and almost magically, with no rhyme or reason.
Professor Pawan Sinha, the lead author of the new paper, explains:
“If we were unable to habituate to stimuli, then the world would become overwhelming very quickly.
It’s like you can’t escape this cacophony that’s falling on your ears or that you’re observing.”
From this point of view, the repetitive behaviours, the preference for highly structured and predictable environments may be coping strategies.