Some of the differences shown in social functioning in people with autism may be because they have an altered sense of self, according to a new study.
Researchers from the Anglia Ruskin University conducted the study. "For a long time autism has been considered a disorder of the self as some people with autism have difficulties accessing memories about themselves and using personal pronouns such as 'me' and 'I'," lead author of the study Cari-lene Mul, a PhD student, told a news portal. Adding."We wanted to find out whether arguably more fundamental aspects of the self—the feeling that your body belongs to you and that your self is located within it—might be altered in people with autism."
The study involved close to 51 adults. Only half of the group had autism spectrum disorders (ASD). This is the first study to measure responses to the self-altering 'full body illusion' in people with autism. This state stimulates an out of body experience. This method triggers people to have an out of body experience, where they see their self as being outside the body. Virtual reality goggles helped them to view their virtual 'avatar'. The results showed that people with autism do not experience the 'full body illusion' in the way neurotypical participants did.
For the study, participants' personal space, area around the body, was also measured. The brain has a way of specially treating this space to be able to interact with the external world. Boundaries of self, in this space, researchers found is much smaller in people with autism.
These findings could explain certain behaviours exhibited in people with autism. Approaching people more closely than socially accepted or finding it hard to consider communication coming from outside their personal space are some of the behaviours expressed by individuals with autism.
"The findings of our study show that the 'bodily' self is less flexible in people with autism and their brains may combine sensory information about their bodies in a different way," senior author of the study Dr Jane Aspell, Senior Lecturer in Psychology at Anglia Ruskin University, told a news portal. Adding, "These differences in self may relate to, and partly explain, differences in self-processing and problems with social functioning, including the ability to empathise with others." The study was originally published in the journal Autism.
Previous research has found that the risk of depression is high for people with ASD. Therefore, understanding, depression in people with ASD is crucial to improving their quality of life.