Neuroplasticity refers to the ability of the brain to form new connections and reorganize itself throughout life. It helps our brain to adjust to the changes around us and respond appropriately and to recover from/compensate for injuries and diseases. For example, when you want to develop a good habit or quit a bad habit, you can alter your behavior with practice because your brain has neuroplasticity. Everything we do, feel, or think influences our brain wiring, by making old connections stronger or by building new ones.
In little children, the brain is making and breaking new connections all the time. It is important that little kids receive as much stimulation and repetition as possible, for these new connections to stabilize. The more the connections, the more the child learns and remembers, making him/her smarter. The environment plays a very important role in brain plasticity, along with genetic factors.
The significance of neuroplasticity is profound in cases of brain injury or disorder. For example, in a stroke patient who has lost the use of a limb, the size of the motor area in the brain corresponding to the use of that limb reduces over time. On the other hand, since the use of the unaffected limb increases considerably, the size of the motor area corresponding to the unaffected limb increases. In the same way, the brain rewires itself in order to compensate and replace functions/behaviors lost in the case of several injuries/diseases.
Recent research has shown that aberrant/atypical neuroplasticity may be one of the mechanisms underlying autism spectrum disorder (ASD). Neuroimaging studies have shown brain overgrowth in ASD, especially in the frontal and temporal regions of the brain, which are associated with learning. Moreover, mutations in ASD have been linked to genes involved in neuroplasticity. However, the exact connection between aberrant neuroplasticity and ASD symptoms remains unclear. Future research and use of new technologies such as transcranial magnetic stimulation could help us resolve this connection and provide a therapeutic solution toward repairing atypical neuroplasticity and improving the cognitive ability in ASD.