Autism Research Updates from 2020

Scientists and researchers are constantly uncovering more information related to autism, offering insights into the origins, possible causes and even at times potential cures. I think back to what we knew or didn’t know in the 1990’s and am amazed as to how far we have come. The question becomes what will we learn in the next five years and how will that impact how we serve children and adults with autism? Read on for those stories that caught my eye in 2020.

Test gauges autistic children’s verbal abilities in natural settings

Researchers and clinicians typically appraise a child’s verbal skills using standardized language tests, which often include questions with predetermined answers. This captures a child’s verbal knowledge, but not their use of language in daily life. A new interactive assessment called the Observation of Spontaneous Expressive Language (OSEL) allows clinicians and researchers a way to evaluate use of language in everyday social situations.

Read the full article here.

Infant hearing test might be sound predictor of autism

The auditory brainstem response (ABR) test is used to screen nearly all babies for hearing impairments. A new study reports that babies who are later diagnosed with autism respond slightly slower than typical babies when exposed to higher-intensity sounds. Researchers say that analyzing more ABR results might suggest other ways to refine the screening specifically for autism.

Read the full article here.

How redefining autism could improve research on the condition

The average age of autism diagnosis—around the age of 4 in the United States—has not changed in over a decade despite research aimed at improving early detection. Ami Klin, director of the Marcus Autism Center in Atlanta, Georgia, says part of the problem lies with how the condition is defined.

Instead of thinking of autism as a collection of traits such as restricted interests, difficulty with social communication, and repetitive behaviors, Klin says researchers, clinician and policymakers should think of autism as a genetic condition that alters how a child perceives and interacts with others and that the severity of core traits can be shaped by early life experiences. 

Read the full interview with Ami Klin here.

Daily living skills influence autistic adults’ education, employment options

According to a new study, individuals with autism who maintain daily living skills–the ability to take care of independent-living tasks–after high school are more likely to enroll in further education than their peers who do not maintain daily living skills.

The study followed 81 individuals with autism and 17 individuals with a developmental delay from age 2 to 26. Daily living skills improved through age 21, but upon reaching age 26, researchers found that half of the participants had less daily living skills and were not as likely to pursue additional education or employment. 

Future studies will analyze which daily living skills are most crucial for success.

Read the full article here.

Alzheimer’s protein turns up as potential target for autism treatments

A study found that lowering tau, a protein known best for its involvement in Alzheimer’s disease, may treat some forms of autism in mice. Researches found the study to be compelling evidence that a link between neurodevelopmental conditions and neurodegenerative conditions exists. At this time, however, it is unclear how the study translates to people with autism.

Read the full article here:

Enlarged amygdala linked to severe behavioral problems in autistic girls

Children with autism who have behavioral problems tend to have an enlarged right amygdala, a brain region that helps process emotions and detect threats. In young girls with autism, the region’s size is associated with the severity of these problems.

Girls with large amygdala tend to have severe internalizing behaviors, such as excessive crying or nightmares, that may signal anxiety or depression, but the same is not true for boys with an enlarged amygdala.

Read the full article here:

Infants’ attention to faces may predict autism before formal diagnosis

By tracking the gaze patterns of infants, researchers could identify significant differences in visual engagement in those later diagnosed with autism. The study also found that not only did those infants behave differently in interactions that involved eye contact, they also expressed different behaviors regarding speech and physical contact.

Read the full article here:

Cerebrospinal fluid: Potential biomarker for autism found

Examining the levels of cerebrospinal fluid (CSF) in children may become the first biomarker that could predict autism. Findings showed that babies who are later diagnosed with autism had significantly more CSF than babies who did not develop autism.

The first study only included 55 infants, of which only 10 developed autism. The latest study included 343 infants, of which 221 were considered high risk of developing autism because they had an older sibling with autism. The children who developed the most severe autism had 24% more CSF.

Read the full article here:

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