The Benefits of Being and Older Father

Advanced paternal age is one of the more replicated risk factors for autism – but maybe not autism as it as seen as a disorder.  Recent studies by Mount Sinai School of Medicine and Kings College of London show in both animal models and in epidemiological studies that advanced age in fathers is associated with the “active but odd” phenotype and PDD NOS.  In people, older (but not “old”) age in fathers led to increased IQ and social aloofness that led to higher academic achievement.  Is this autism?  Or just a subtype of autism where the outcomes are adaptive rather than maladaptive?  There are lots of questions about the nature of autism in these findings.

Why is it so hard to look them in the eye?

There is an ongoing debate about why people with autism avoid eye contact.  There is data to support both, but as this behavior emerges very early, it’s important to look at data from preverbal children to understand the origins of changes in eye contact.  Many scientists also feel that avoiding eye contact snowballs over the lifespan and deprives people with autism from developing social skills.  Infants don’t even know why they avoid eye contact so at the Marcus Autism Center in Atlanta, researchers are using eye tracking technology to answer this question.  The findings have clear implications for early intervention strategies.

Moving the needle towards earlier diagnosis of autism spectrum disorders

This week, the CDC published data that showed that the average age of first developmental evaluation for concerns was lowered by 5 months.  Five months is a lot to a family whose child is suffering and in need of help.  Separately, research out of Houston shows that many families are able to skip the formal evaluation and receive intervention prior to an established diagnosis based on demonstrated need that the child needs services.  This was the good news in autism, and while there is still a lot to be done especially with regards to racial and ethnic differences, public health is moving in the right direction on this issue.  But not all people with autism view their differences as symptoms or a disability.  What can we learn from people who use sign language to communicate to inform us about the way some people with autism communicate?  A special meeting called Conversations in Autism and Sign Language (CASL) brought experts and individuals on the spectrum to discuss.

Unique strengths in some people with ASD

We almost always hear about how people with autism show deficits in certain behaviors, but what about features that may be an advantage?  A new study from the UK offers some scientific insight on how people with autism exhibit thinking styles that are not as fixed and rigid as ‘neurotypicals’.   Where does this come from?  And is it on the opposite of the genetic coin as things that produce problems in people with ASD?   I mention one task in the study, here’s the image:

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