To see differences in the brains of males and females with autism, you have to look at the brains of males and females with autism

Last month, UC Davis researcher Cyndi Schumann used resources for the Autism BrainNet to look at what causes differences in the rates of diagnosis between males and females.  Consistent with other studies on this topic, males and females don’t show differences in the rates of autism genes, but rather in the way that the brain controls other genes that code for things like neuroinflammation and development.  Clearly more studies are necessary but it is consistent with the Female Protective Effect in autism.  The full text can be found here:

And also, there was a study on genital herpes and autism that CNN got totally wrong.

When can you see autism in the brain?

This week the Infant Brain Imaging Study, or IBIS, published it’s 2nd study on the emergence of changes in the brains of individuals with autism.  While red flags for autism can be seen early, a diagnosis of autism is not typically made until after 24 months of age. Using a baby sibling research design, scientists showed increases in the size of certain areas of the brain between 6-12 months.  This opens up opportunities for even earlier diagnosis of ASD in the future.   Also, a group at Stanford shows the emergence and disappearance of co-morbid symptoms in autism, such as epilepsy, schizophrenia and ADHD, which are dependent on sex and age.  Together, these studies show that autism begins very very early and symptoms and behavioral and biological features change over time.

Betsy DeVos, autism screening and testosterone – in that order

This week two studies which examined infants and younger children that will significantly advance understanding of causes and services for people with autism were published.  After a commentary about the confirmation of Betsy DeVos, the study that used a practical methodology to improve autism screening in pediatrics clinic from researchers at Duke University was presented.  After that, some early results from the EARLI study  which examined pregnancies in families where an older sibling was diagnosed was presented.  In this study, Bo Park and her colleagues at Drexel University, Johns Hopkins University, University of California at Davis and Kaiser Permanente show that testosterone levels in pregnancy aren’t related to later autism symptoms unless the older sibling affected is a girl.  These findings can illustrate why girls are less likely to be diagnosed with autism compared to boys.  The study is open access and can be downloaded here, thanks to the journal Molecular Autism:



Putting the pieces together around group social skills interventions

Individual research studies are great.  But even better is when someone takes these studies and puts them together to see if one study shows the same thing another does, and if they do is the effect size consistent?  Sometimes you can only do this by going old school and pooling the data from the individual studies.   This is especially helpful in determining the effectiveness of different interventions.  This week, Dr. Matthew Lerner and his colleagues at Stony Brook University  published a meta analysis of group social skills interventions.  They put together well-designed studies and asked:  do they work?  Are they better than getting nothing at all?  To find out, listen to this week’s ASF podcast.