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.
This week’s podcast summarizes recent evidence on why there is good and bad in treating autism with medication, but there is also lots of ugly. While new medications are being developed and researchers are looking into new ways of measuring change across time time, medications are not effective in treating the core symptoms of autism and they have pretty harsh side effects which, you guessed it, are dealt with by prescribing more medications. There are a lot of reasons to be hopeful about the future of medication use in autism, but lots of reasons to feel frustrated too.
Here are some of the articles that were cited:
Labor Day is a time to appreciate and honor all those people who work to make this world a better place. People with autism do that, but they also want to get paid and be employed just like anyone else. This Labor Day, the podcast summarizes challenges to studying employment in people with ASD, what we know, and what is being done in a collaboration between ASF, Curtin University in Australia, the Karolinska Institute and Stony Brook University in Long Island. This is the INSAR supported policy brief project that will be completed next year, but you will all be receiving a request to fill out a survey about employment in the coming weeks. In addition, what does employment mean for people with autism? A NY Times article recently highlighted the journey from childhood to adulthood and what having a job means.
On Thursday, March 30th the Autism Science Foundation held their 4th Annual Day of Learning in NYC. If you were not able to attend and can’t wait for the videos of the talks, this week’s podcast attempts to summarize what was presented.
A list of the talks are:
- Autism Research: Where Are We Now? – Dr. Wendy Chung (Simons Foundation)
- Housing Options for Adults with Autism – Amy Lutz (EASI Foundation)
- Improving Communication Between Parents of Children with Autism and Teachers – Dr. David Mandell (University of Pennsylvania)
- Developing Clinical Biomarkers – Dr. James McPartland – (Yale University)
- Understanding Modifiable Autism Risk Factors – Dr. Craig Newschaffer (Drexel University)
- Helping People with Autism Develop Practical Skills – Dr. Celine Saulnier (Emory University)
- New Technologies to Improve Autism Diagnosis – Dr. Robert Schultz (Children’s Hospital of Philadelphia)
- Understanding the Female Protective Effect – Dr. Donna Werling (University of California, San Francisco)
David Mandell’s presentation on parent/teacher communication was based, in part, on this publication: https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC4676744/
On Monday, the much anticipated MSSNG study which analyzed the entire DNA sequence of over 5000 people with autism was published. The press release can be found here. In it, the researchers found even more genes of interest to autism. Also, those with more of a specific type of mutation, copy number variations, had worse autism symptoms. But of course, the story gets more complicated than just more mutations – worse behavior. An analysis from a different group of individuals reinforced the role of copy number variations in symptoms, but when they matched the groups according to IQ, the autism symptom profiles were different. This shows that adaptive behavior and IQ are important to consider when considering how genetics influence autism symptoms. Finally, another study shows how important measuring genetics is to understanding environmental factors associated with autism. Michela Traglia reports that increases in PBDEs in moms of kids affected with autism can be explained by mutations in the gene that breaks down these chemicals. It’s important to study genetics of autism, but also crucial to know the genetics of the entire family as well.