In 2014, the two categories of autism symptoms were condensed from two to one: social communication problems. Understanding that this is now a broader but more accurate domain of symptoms, researchers from Center for Autism and the Developing Brain and UCSF drilled down to distinguish different types of social communication and which were most specific to autism. Using this approach, these same researchers were able to determine which ones distinguished the social problems in ADHD to those seen in autism. These results will help clinicians do a better job understanding what are social issues related to other disorders, and which are markers for autism.
Many people wonder why researchers study recognition of facial expression in people with ASD. Not only is it a core symptom, it has consequences for daily functioning. As Matthew Lerner from Stonybrook University explains, it doesn’t “simply” explain everything but it does provide insight into social processes and friendships. A set of two studies from Dr. Lerner’s lab perfectly demonstrate that while some behaviors may seem far removed from everyday functioning in people with autism, these are important features to better understand so people can not just treat, but understand, the minds of people with ASD.
Three new studies examine the relationship between prenatal medication exposure and autism. The results from these studies are not always consistent, suggesting there may be something missing from the study of medication use in pregnancy and risk in the child. What is lacking in these studies is genetic information. Without data on the genetics of the mother or the child, researchers are missing opportunities to address more specific research questions. Clinicians lack data to implement personalized medicine approaches. The findings don’t suggest genetic research, they urge that genetics be integrated with environmental exposure information.
Over the holidays, new studies around early (before age 5 years) intervention were published that generated excitement in the autism community. First, a new parent-mediated intervention called the “Social ABC’s” showed promising results. Another intervention showed promise in south Asia, indicating that the success of parent-mediated interventions are not specific to North American countries. Finally, data shows that most children are not having to wait for an ASD diagnosis before they receive these early intervention services. They may not be perfect, but they are something, and this is progress.