Many who work with autistic children and adults are aware of the habit of ‘withdrawal into self’, but a new study has shed some light on where the characteristic might come from.

Research from neuroscientists in the US has found that the brains of autistic children generate more information when at rest – an average increase of 42%.

Researchers believe this excess production of information may explain a child’s detachment from their environment.

“Our results suggest that autistic children are not interested in social interactions because their brains generate more information at rest, which we interpret as more introspection in line with early descriptions of the disorder,” said Dr Roberto Fernández Galán, a senior author and associate professor of neurosciences at Case Western Reserve University School of Medicine.

Researchers quantified brain activity with the same approach and engineers use for measuring signals in electronics, but this time applied to the most complex piece of equipment we have – the human brain.

Assessing the magnetoencephalography (MEG) showed that autistic children’s brains at rest generate more information than non-autistic children. Scientists say it could explain the lack of interest in external stimuli and interaction with others that autistic people often display.

The study also analysed the brain's functional connectivity, finding that the inputs to the brain in the resting state allowing them to interpret the children’s introspection level.

“This is a novel interpretation because it is a different attempt to understand the children’s cognition by analysing their brain activity,” said Dr José L. Pérez Velázquez, professor of neuroscience at University of Toronto and author of a new report.

“Measuring cognitive processes is not trivial; yet, our findings indicate that this can be done to some extent with well-established mathematical tools from physics and engineering.”

This study provides early quantitative support for the relatively new ‘Intense World Theory’ of autism proposed by neuroscientists Henry and Kamila Markram. The theory describes autism as the result of hyper-functioning neural circuitry, leading to a state of over-arousal.