Top Autism Research Stories in 2017

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 2017… What a year it’s been!

~ Maureen

Link between parental age and autism, explained

  • Study of 5,000 people suggests that parents in their mid-40s are 5-10% more likely to have a child with autism than are 20-year-old parents
  • Why? Older men and women pass along a greater number of spontaneous DNA mutations

CDC says developmental disabilities are on the rise

  • Least common among Hispanic as compared to other ethnic groups
  • Lower than some earlier funding as LD, ADHD not included
  • More restrictive definition of developmental disabilities
  • Between 2014 and 2016, the prevalence of developmental disabilities among kids ages 3 to 17 increased from 5.76% to 6.99%
  • Prevalence was “significantly higher” among boys than girls
  • Rise stems from an uptick in children diagnosed w/DD and not autism or ID



Rapid brain growth in infancy may signal autism

  • Surface area measurements (blue) of 6-month-old babies can distinguish children with autism from those without the condition
  • Increase in brain surface volume before 12 months
  • Largest brain growth = most severe symptoms


Depression, not treatment, is to blame for increased risk in autism

  • Children exposed to antidepressants were twice as likely as the other children to be diagnosed with autism
  • Association disappeared when the researchers controlled for other characteristics, including mother’s education level, mental health diagnosis, and age at delivery
  • During a child’s second year of life, overall brain size increased at the same time as their behavioral symptoms, which lead researchers to correlate the largest brain growth with the most severe symptoms of autism
  • Autism occurs at a higher rate in families that are affected by depression, anxiety, or OCD

Heightened stress reaction linked to autism-related GI problems

  • Cortisol is released by the adrenal glands during physical or emotional stress
  • Relationship between increased cortisol response to stress and GI issues
  • Children with autism and chronic GI symptoms had significantly greater spikes of cortisol

Benefits of parent participation in early interventionPicture2

  • Randomized longitudinal follow up from 2-18 years
  • Teaching parents how to interact and respond to cues from babies at high risk of autism can decrease the severity of autism features at age 3
  • The new study suggests these gains persist for months to years

Cerebellum’s role in autism homes in on social region

  • Researchers stimulated brain activity in the RCrus1 (transcranial direct current stimulation)
  • Cerebellum has to do with motor planning, social skills, and language
  • Findings indicate that a region of the cerebellum called right crus 1(red/orange) is disrupted in children with autism
  • Area plays role in processing social information; can cause social problems and repetitive behaviors
  • Artificial stimulation of the region in adults reverses social problems

Autism rate appears to have stabilized

  • National Health Interview surveys polls American households about a variety of conditions
  • Prevalence of autism in US has reached a plateau
  • 41% of US kids/teens are on the spectrum
  • 34% of these are boys; 1.22% girls
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