Cutting Edge Research and Interesting Facts About Autism Spectrum Disorder

The cause of Autism, Asperger Syndrome, Rett’s Disorder other conditions on the spectrum are still unclear, but recent science has some promising leads.

Our understanding of the brain has blossomed in the last 15 years, in part because technology has given us new tools to interpret how the various centers of our brains work and process in concert. Autism remains a mystery, but we know more now than ever and the research currently taking place around the world gives us more insight about the nature of Autism Spectrum Disorder (ASD).

ASD is not new. While it was written about as early as 17991, the word “autism” was coined in 1943. Many early scientists and psychologists falsely attributed it to bad parenting or vaccines until very recently. It is actually a neurological condition that scientists now think is genetic. Recent studies indicate that parents who have one ASD child have an increased likelihood of having a second child on the spectrum. Also with twins, if one child has ASD, the statistics show there is a 90% chance the other twin will have it too.1

Autism rates are increasing. The CDC reports that there has been a significant jump in autism over the last decade. One reason for this might be that autism was previously being confused with mental retardation or other developmental conditions. Another reason could be that women are having babies later and a link between climbing testosterone in the amniotic fluid and autism has been determined. The data today indicates that 1 in 88 children are on the spectrum.2

Beta Blockers possibly improve social and reasoning skills. Initial findings at the University of Missouri, Columbia suggest that Propranolol boosted social competence with a single dose. The whole study has yet to be published, but this inexpensive drug could have potentially big impact on high-functioning patients with things like staying on topic, sharing information and non-verbal cues.3

In a CDC clinical trial, Sutter Neuroscience Institute is currently is testing stem cells from umbilical cords. Children ages 2-7 with ASD symptoms are re-infused with their own cord blood stem cells to see if it will help modify and stimulate language and behavioral development. Scientists think stem cells extracted from cord blood possibly have the ability to regulate the immune system, and aid neurological repair. So far, the indicators are encouraging.4

ASD and other illnesses are comorbid. Patients on the spectrum often have other health issues, according to a study in the New England Journal of Medicine. Researchers have observed a connection to ADHD, anxiety, epilepsy, gastrointestinal problems and some 60 other health-related disorders5. Some feel this has to do with immunity, and many neuroscientists believe this makes a stronger case for autism spectrum as a genetic disorder.

Early intervention may be key. In studies that focus on younger siblings – who are almost 15 times more likely to be on the spectrum if their older siblings are – these children can be diagnosed as early as 18 months. Second siblings are the focus of early intervention programs that may stymie the severity of the developmental toll autism takes on a young child.6

Awareness has only grown about ASD and more effort than ever is being applied to understand the root causes of this condition. One of the more confusing realities of ASD is that the symptoms are so variable, it’s hard to dial in treatment and coping strategies for the individual. For parents of children with ASD, it can be very helpful to stay current on the latest studies. These great sources regularly address the cutting edge research and other fantastic actions that can help:

www.pbs.org

www.autismspeaks.org

 References:

  1. http://www.pbs.org/pov/neurotypical/autism-myths-and-misconceptions.php
  2. http://articles.latimes.com/2012/mar/30/local/la-me-0330-autism-rates-20120330
  3. http://www.cordblood.com/stem-cell-research/cord-blood-research/autism
  4. http://nationalautismassociation.org/pdf/MedicalComorbiditiesinASD2013.pdf
  5. http://www.pbs.org/wgbh/nova/next/body/autism-early-intervention/
  6. http://www.medscape.com/viewarticle/822184

 

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