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National Autistic Society 10th Anniversary Conference

A day filled with all things autism - the National Autistic Society 10th Anniversary Conference at Birmingham ICC.

The opening session of the day saw Peter Vermeulen PhD take to the stage to redefine the sensory processing differences associated with autism. He presented a wide selection of research that highlights that the physiological response of sensory sensitivity is distinctly separate from the behavioural reaction to sensory information. Sensory sensitivity occurs as a physiological response in the brain, and has shown to be similar in both autistic and non-autistic people. The extreme behavioural reactions that we have previously described as hyper- and hypo- sensitivity occur in the limbic system, the emotional hub of the brain. He lead us to reconsider whether sensory differences are really sensory, but describing the brain not as a passive receiver of information but as dealing only in predictions and the discrepancies between those predictions and what actually occurs - termed 'prediction errors'. If the brain was always waiting for stimuli it would be too slow to respond.

This redefined model is helpful in explaining the classic example of an autistic person who is described as being hypersensitive to sound but makes plenty of loud noise themselves. Their own noise is predictable, within their control and expected, therefore requires little processing and is easier to tolerate.

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