Regions of the brain may not communicate with each other as efficiently as they should in people with autism, research suggests.
Brain cell communication may be unbalanced
US scientists used sophisticated scans to examine connections in the cerebral cortex - the part of the brain that deals with complex thought.
They found evidence of abnormal patterns of brain cell connection in people with autism.
The research was presented at a meeting of the Society for Neuroscience.
In some parts of the cortex brain cells made too many connections, and in other parts not enough.
Lead researcher Dr Michael Murias, from the University of Washington, said: "Our findings indicate adults with autism show differences in coordinated neural activity, which implies poor internal communication between the parts of the brain."
The researchers analyzed electroencephalography (EEG) scans from 36 adults, half of whom had autism.
The EEGs, which measure the activity of hundreds of millions of brain cells, were collected while the people were seated and relaxed with their eyes closed for two minutes.
The researchers found people with autism particularly showed abnormal patterns of brain cell connection in the temporal lobe, which deals with language.
They argue that the abnormal patterns suggest inefficient and inconsistent communication inside the brains of people with autism.
Dr Marius said their work might lead to a way to spot autism at an earlier stage.
Autism, a developmental disorder, is estimated to affect one in every 166 children.
It is characterized by difficulties in communicating and interacting with other people.
Richard Mills, honorary secretary of Research Autism and director of research for the National Autistic Society, said: "We now know much more about differences in brain structure and function in autism although it is not always possible to link such understanding to effective treatment.
"This research supports a number of other studies confirming the nature of brain differences and could have important implications for diagnosis and by implication, intervention.
"The evidence base for the majority of treatment approaches is poor. Given the high cost of autism both in human and economic terms, we welcome all advances in understanding and urge increased investment in all areas of autism research."