Poor memory linked to autism

Findings suggest broad memory impairment plays a part in disorder

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Children with autism not only have difficulty remembering faces but also recalling other kinds of information, a recent study reported.

Stanford Medicine scientists conducted the research and reported the findings in July 2023 in Biological Psychiatry: Cognitive Neuroscience and Neuroimaging.

Social challenges are a core feature of autism, and it’s possible that memory impairments significantly contribute to the ability to engage socially, researchers said.“ Social cognition cannot occur without reliable memory,” said senior author Vinod Menon, PhD, the Rachael L. and Walter F. Nichols, MD, Professor and a professor of psychiatry and behavioral sciences.

Past studies have shown that children with autism have trouble remembering faces. Some small early studies also suggested that children with autism have broader memory difficulties.

In the new study, high-functioning children with autism and normal IQs scored lower than typically developing children on tests of immediate and delayed verbal recall, immediate visual recall, and delayed verbal recognition.

Brain scans of the children with autism showed that distinct brain networks drove different types of memory difficulty.

“The findings suggest that general and face-memory challenges have two underlying sources in the brain that contribute to a broader profile of memory impairments in autism,” Menon said.

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Erin Digitale

Erin Digitale is the pediatrics senior science writer in the Office of Communications. Email her at digitale@stanford.edu.

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