2016: Top Research of the Year

As December comes to a close, I always enjoy looking back at the research developments of the year. I thought I would share with you what I found to be some of the significant findings throughout 2016.

~ Maureen


researchIn previous blogs, I’ve discussed the challenges Ryan experiences with anxiety, so I was especially interested in learning that anxiety affects those with autism differently than the general population. It’s excellent to now have a resource for physicians to aid them in diagnosing and treating anxiety in individuals on the spectrum.


Many of our students are prescribed Risperdal to reduce severe irritability, agitation, and aggression when behavioral therapy is not successful. Unfortunately, a common side effect is significant weight gain. This year, research revealed that a common diabetes drug can mitigate the weight gain effect of both Risperdal and Abilify.


Although I have reviewed the possible link between Vitamin D deficiency and autism spectrum disorder, a newly released article not only solidifies these findings but also suggests that vitamin D3 supplements may significantly improve autism symptoms such as hyperactivity and social withdrawal.


When Ryan was first diagnosed with autism, I worked with therapists to develop and implement ABA programs in our home. Ryan worked with staff during the day, and I would implement the same programs in the evenings. I truly believe this structure and continuity 7 days a week is the reason he was able to make such great progress and thrives today. Thus, I was very pleased to see throughout the course of the year increased emphasis on parent preparation and teacher training for those who support individuals with autism.


autismVery often, the determination of the severity of autism is based upon the child’s verbal skills. Recent research suggests that nearly half of children with autism who speak few or no words have cognitive skills that far exceed their verbal abilities. The findings call into question the widespread assumption that children with autism who have severe difficulty with speech also have low intelligence.


Most people are aware that many people with autism report heightened sensory perception. They may be acutely aware of sounds or of people or objects touching their skin. Researchers have theorized that this feeling of sensory overload might make social situations overwhelming and challenging to navigate. A new study in mice supports this thinking and suggests that sensory sensitivity directly drives social difficulties. It also hints that treatments aimed at the peripheral nervous system — the set of neurons that connect the brain and spinal cord to limbs and organs — could ease this sensitivity and possibly even social problems and anxiety.


Also throughout 2016 were numerous research articles on mutations within genetic makeup that may cause autism as well as various symptoms of autism. As this research continues, I anticipate that 2017 will bring us even more remarkable findings in gene mutations that may cause autism and possible treatments.


By keeping a pulse on research trends throughout the course of the year, I find that not only am I able to take what I learn and apply it to our daily practice, both at the BNI and with Ryan, but also I’m constantly made aware of how much effort and commitment our nation gives to the study of autism. When I think about the advances made in the past decade and its resulting impact on the services provided, I only wonder where we will be ten years from now. I have a feeling it’s going to be even more remarkable than the past decade!

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