Autism Update 2014

Throughout 2013, many major advances toward a better understanding of autism have occurred. They include:

  • Gene “Dose” May Be Key to Autism, Bill Snyder, Vanderbilt University, 3/4/13. Vanderbilt University and Baylor College of Medicine reported that increased use of a gene involved in the regulation of anxiety and social behavior may be “fundamentally related” to the central social features of autism.
  • Blood Test for Autism Could Speed Diagnosis, Craig Boerner, Vanderbilt University, 5/23/13. A multi-site autism study to evaluate the effectiveness of a blood test to screen for autism seeks to determine if such a test would be useful. 660 children over 20 sites are involved. Because of the critical importance of early intervention, research hopes to develop measures and care to accurately identify children at very young ages. The research is looking for a biomarker in blood samples to confirm identification.
  • Predicting Autism Outcomes Possible, Study Finds, Shaun Heasley, Disability Scoop, 5/30/13. Brain responses to various words heard by 2 year olds with autism appear to predict linguistic, cognitive and adaptive skills when they reach ages 4 and 6. Children with less severe autism symptoms processed words similarly to typically developing kids, while the more severe had totally different brain responses. All received intensive therapy with improved behavior, the outcomes mirroring their responses on the initial tests. This emphasizes the importance of the earliest possible intervention.
  • Feds Order Ohio to Provide Autism Therapy, Dan Horn 9/13/13, Cincinnati News. The U.S. Department of Education ordered state officials in Ohio to provide ABA therapy to any child considered to be a good candidate. Melody Musgrove, director of the U.S. DOE, said the state must provide early intervention services that included ABA. Meanwhile litigation is continuing about the young child whose parents requested ABA therapy and were refused by the local school district.
  • Autistic Kids Miss Non-verbal clues When Listening, Suzi Gage, BBC News, 9/10/13 (published in journal Developmental Science). Autistic children may miss out on the non-verbal aspects of conversation because they look away when speaking to adults, scientists found. They broke eye contact when they were thinking or remembering, as did many non-disabled children. Holding eye contact is mentally demanding, so looking away while thinking may be beneficial, an important message to give to teachers. Encouraging them to look while listening is a different skill than while they are thinking. How can you tell if they are zoned out or working something out? “If the pupil seems to be on-task and processing information, they are working it out. If they have lost attention, they might still look at you, but through you,” said Dr. Debbie Ribi, lead author on the paper.
  • Autism Often Diagnosed In Kids With Genetic Condition, Shaun Heasley, Disability Scoop, 9/19/13. A genetic disorder called “22q11.2 deletion syndrome”, or 22q and also known as DiGeorge Syndrome, resembles autism but is not. This is important because 50% of those with 2q were diagnosed as autistic. Researchers found that treatments for autism on those with 22q increased their anxiety. The condition occurs in about 1 in 2,000 people.
  • Researchers Identify Possible Cause of 1 in 4 Autism Cases, Michelle Diament, Disability Scoop, 7/11/13. A theory is forming about an autism cause. Antibodies in a mother’s blood during pregnancy interferes with fetal brain development, as reported in the journal Translational Psychiatry. These antibodies could account for as many as 23% of all cases of the disorder. This opens a new line of investigation into possible biological treatments, said Leonard Abbeduto, director of the University of California, Davis MIND Institute. These women have no control over the formation of these antibodies, and it is unknown as to what triggers their production.
  • Aiming Autism Ads at Hispanic and African-American Parents, Jane Levere, The New York Times, 5/21/13. Autism Speaks has introduced a public service campaign aimed at Hispanic and African-American parents. It described the early signs of autism, shows real babies, and encourages parents to take immediate action. The campaign features realistic situations parents can identify with. A goal is to address cultural barriers to diagnosis and for care. All advertising is in English and Spanish, LatinWorks advising on the campaign.
  • Training Program Meets “Critical Need” for Earlier Autism Identification, Jennifer Wetzel, Vanderbilt University, 7/11/13. Vanderbilt University Medical Center released the results of a 3 year study that evaluated the effectiveness of programs designed to identify and assess autism in community pediatric settings across Tennessee. After training in rapid screenings, pediatricians reported changes in their screening process and an increase in children diagnosed with autism. Because of the lack of developmental specialists in most locations and the need for early intervention, the training taught interactive screening procedures to local pediatricians so that they could rapidly evaluate and reduce the parents’ wait time for assessment. The results of the applied training program had high agreement with expert clinicians in measuring results.