What is the can do vs. the will do of autism?

Often overlooked in intervention studies, it is becoming increasingly clearer that adaptive behavior, the “will do” vs. the “can do” of functioning, should receive more focus.  In people with autism and high IQ, cognitive ability, the “can do” is higher than adaptive behavior, the “will do”.  Why?  The key in new research from the National Institutes of Health may be social abilities.  Another study this week from Children’s Hospital of Philadelphia in adult  with high IQ demonstrates that social motivation may be the key to improving social skills and socialization in people with ASD.

Supporting the support staff, at least a first step

Paid support staff are critical to helping individuals at all ages with autism.  Unfortunately, they are mostly poorly paid, and exhibit high levels of burnout.  What psychological constructs are most important, and can they be targeted for services to help provide better services for those with ASD?  As it turns out, more important than preventing burnout is building up psychological capital, which helps deal with the effects of burnout.  In addition, a new important feature of autism has been identified: intolerance to uncertainty.  Previously linked to ASD through anxiety, now it is shown to have direct connections to ASD diagnosis and symptomatology.  Is this a new core feature?

What is the real prevalence of ASD?

Unfortunately this podcast does not really provide an answer, but does highlight data published over the holidays which shows in another dataset, that the prevalence of autism seems to be leveling out, rather than continue to increase as it has done for the past several decades.  It isn’t the final word and clearly there may be exceptions, but now two national datasets have shown no further increase in autism prevalence in the last few years of looking.  Is it 1:68 as reported in one study or 1:39 in another?  Is it somewhere in between?  Still to early to say, but white boys seem to be the most likely to get a diagnosis no matter where you look.  Also, folic acid proves to show an effect on the probability of not just an autism diagnosis, but autism symptoms.  This is especially important for women taking anti epileptic medications for seizures and bipolar depression.  Welcome to 2018!

Here are links to the articles.  Some of them are open access!

https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/29297068

https://www.cdc.gov/nchs/data/databriefs/db291.pdf

https://jamanetwork.com/journals/jamapsychiatry/fullarticle/2667432

https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/29279889

 

 

The 2017 ASF Science Year-End Roundup

In 40 minutes, ASF summarizes the highlights in autism research from before diagnosis through adulthood.   It includes new intervention studies, ways to better diagnose ASD, to understand symptoms, females, sexuality, employment, neurobiology, genetics, and gene x environment interactions.   The major themes are the “H” word, or heterogeneity in symptoms across the spectrum, ways to make the broad spectrum smaller, and how big data approaches are helping make this happen.  Thank you to families who participated in research and tireless autism researchers for lending their skills to answer the tough questions.  And of course, thank you all for listening to these podcasts all year long.  The transcript with all the references used will be posted on the ASF blog in the upcoming days.

Gamma waves and autism brains

Gamma waves are brainwave activity at a certain speed and have been linked to consciousness and seem to help coordinate activity in different parts of the brain.  They have also been associated with processing of information, including sensory information.  This week, researchers at Oxford University led by Dr. David Menassa explore gamma waves in the brains of autistic adults who perform better on a visual processing task than those without a diagnosis.  Gamma waves are controlled by the coordinated activity of neurons in the brain, which are regulated by inhibitory interneurons which make sure excitatory neurons aren’t taking over.  In a study using brain tissue of people with autism, it was found by another study at Oxford that there are fewer of these inhibitory interneurons to control this activity.  Dr. David Menassa provides his own interpretation of the data on this week’s podcast.

The more you know…….about infertility and interpregnancy interval

This week, two studies from the large CDC funded study called the Study to Explore Early Development were published that examines probability of having a child with autism after infertility treatments (first paper) and long or short times between pregnancies (second paper).  These studies put to rest some of the questions moms have been interested in.  First, it’s infertility not infertility treatments that is linked to autism, and second, spacing pregnancies too close together or too far apart is also associated with an increased probability of having a child with severe autism symptoms.  This podcast explains what the studies mean and what parents should know.  The references are here:

 

https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/29164825

https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/28900768

 

Parents are people too

Sometimes parents get a bad rap for not having autism themselves, or not being in touch with the challenges of autistic adults.  This week’s ASF Podcast highlights two new studies on the role parents play in science, research and understanding racial disparities.  A group in the United Kingdom released the results of a survey across Europe which examined parent perceptions on early autism research (think infants and toddlers) and how researchers could better help families at this stage.  Another study from researchers in Georgia and Connecticut revealed how important parents (and clinicians) can be in reducing the disparity in diagnosis between black and white children in the US.  Finally, a call to unite over a common challenge: employment.  If you have not done so already, please make your voice heard as a parent, autistic adult, employer or service provider on a survey gauging the needs of the entire autism community around employment.  http://www.lernerlab.com/employmentsurvey.html 

 

Here are the references used in this podcast:

https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC4230972/ 

https://www.autismspeaks.org/sites/default/files/docs/as_science_planning_survey_final_pdf_0.pdf

https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/29126359

https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/29100475

 

Let’s talk about sex (and sexuality)

While certainly not a new topic of interest, the number of research studies and publications on the sexuality of people with autism has exploded in the past year.  Research shows more people with autism reporting they don’t conform to traditional sexual definitions.   In addition to having to navigate the world of having autism, they also have to figure out how to deal with exclusion based on sexual orientation and coming out.  They are a double disadvantaged community.   Also, females with autism seem to be at particular risk of poor sexual experiences.  This podcast reviews the research all leading to a reported need for better sexual education, and a promising intervention to help people with ASD.  Publications cited are:

 

https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/29086210

https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC5570786/

https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/27565655

https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/28877047

https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/28342163

https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/28299510

https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/28691307

Genes: the beginnings of autism treatment targets

This week’s podcast focuses on two studies that help illustrate why studying individuals with a specific genetic mutation, or animal models with a particular genetic mutation, are so important.  MSSM researchers focused on individuals with FOXP1 Syndrome, which has a high rate of autism and could be the focus of future treatments.  In the meantime, researchers at UTSW, led by ASF fellow Christine Ochoa Escamilla, identified a particular brain chemical responsible for changes in brain activity following mutations of chromosome 16.  About 1% of people with autism have mutations in this chromosome.  Application of a chemical to counteract this chemical then led to improvements in brain activity, opening up the door to new drug targets that affect some of the more severely affected individuals with ASD.

 

Here are the references:  https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/29088697

https://molecularautism.biomedcentral.com/articles/10.1186/s13229-017-0172-6

The IACC has some ideas on how to spend money for research, and here they are

This week the Interagency Autism Coordinating Committee or IACC, finalized next year’s strategic plan on autism research.  This podcast explains what the IACC does, who serves on it, and also, what ideas they have for maximizing use of the research dollar for ASD.  It’s a long document and every taxpayer in the US does contribute money towards autism research, so it’s worthwhile to hear what the US government, researchers, stakeholders, service providers and individuals with autism thinks should happen to that money.  If you want to read the whole, thing, go for it.  You can download it here.