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New method to diagnose autism early

New method to diagnose autism early

Accurately knowing the degree of development of Consciousness in children could help pediatricians to detect early behavioral disorders such as autism, hyperactivity or attention deficit, according to David Zelazo, a professor of psychology at the University of Toronto, who has worked in the elaboration of some tests that define more degrees of consciousness than those previously described. Zelazo has participated in the sixth Conference of the Association for the Scientific Study of Consciousness (ASSC), organized by the University of Barcelona and the Science Museum of the “La Caixa” Foundation.

Unlike the classical model, which only distinguishes three phases in the development of infantile consciousness – the absence of consciousness, the awakening of consciousness and the awareness of oneself – Zelazo presented a more detailed model of levels of consciousness, the product of your investigations.

According to this expert, babies would have a minimum sensory awareness from birth to 9 and 12 months of life. Between the ninth and twelfth month there would be a jump in its development, the so-called recursion process, that is, in this period the youngsters would begin to consciously integrate the information they receive from different experiences.

“They record something in their mind, even if it is not visible, and they use it to guide their behavior, they are able to find a toy that is hidden.” Subsequently, between 18 and 24 months and 3 years of age have been identified two other levels of consciousness development, characterized by greater control over actions and emotions. Zelazo clarifies that at 3 years a child is able to use the information he has to act.

But small autistic, hyperactive, with attention deficit or other behavioral disorders, despite having such information, are unable to use it to regulate their behavior. They have difficulty controlling their emotions and are inflexible in their behavior.

This behavioral rigidity can be correlated with a delay in the development of their consciousness, which is a few years behind that of other infants of the same age. Therefore, Zelazo argues that it would be very useful for the diagnosis that pediatricians used the test to measure levels of consciousness.

One of the great discussions in which the experts run aground and, today, fail to reach consensus is whether the language is an essential requirement for there to be awareness or if it arises previously.

What was before?

One of the current theories states that Phenomenal Consciousness (of the events that develop) exists in prelinguistic babies as well as in animals, while another tendency holds that phenomenal consciousness can only be explained through reflective consciousness, which it appears when the child develops the capacity of the spoken language.

According to the first theory, children and animals would experience pain and sensations, although they can not express it with words, an idea that other authors support.

On the other hand, the second theory defends that the child only becomes aware of his suffering and feelings when he is able to express himself verbally and, therefore, acquires the so-called reflexive conscience, according to experts such as Davidson or Rosenthal, points Antoni Gomila, professor of Thought and Language of the Department of Psychology of the University of the Balearic Islands.

Gomila says that, apparently, chimpanzees would have a mental life guided by appearances, only by what they see, while human babies are also able to distinguish the intention of the adult or correlations of cause and effect, according to Daniel Povinelli, Institute of Cognitive Sciences of the University of Lousiana, United States. But the Spanish, Josep Call, of the Max Planck Institute, keeps the dilemma alive, since he postulates that primates can develop concepts from unobservable or abstract properties.

I see sounds and smell colors

Synesthesia (subjective image or sensation of a sense, determined by another sense) is an example of altered phenomenal consciousness that, however, does not have to be pathological. Sensory perceptions are produced as a result of a strange mixture of senses that can take multiple forms: some synesthetes see the sounds, others feel the colors or taste the forms.

Newborns are synesthetes, at different levels, according to Daphne Maurer of the Department of Psychology at the University of McMaster in Canada. Thus, neonates can taste the mother’s voice tastefully, says Maurer to illustrate the extent to which sensory perception is not well differentiated in babies. Also in adulthood may be reminiscent of the synesthesia that characterizes the preverbal period of the small. In fact, artists such as the composer Rimsky-Korsakov or the painter Wassily Kandinsky have been synesthetic, remembers Maurer, and the literary language is full of such metaphors.

Some experiments, based on synesthesia, have tried to achieve the vision of blind people through the sense of touch, says Gomila. Larry Weiskrantz, professor emeritus of psychology at the University of Oxford, says that certain blind people, with damage to a cerebral hemisphere, are able to discriminate simple forms, a direction or a movement through alternative nervous connections.

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New method to diagnose autism early


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