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.
This month, two new important research findings were published from scientists that study the very earliest signs and symptoms of autism. First, Dr. Suzanne Macari at Yale showed that a type of temperament in toddlers was associated with autism at about 3 years of age. This may be used in the future to develop specialized interventions very very early on. Meanwhile, Dr. Jessica Brian’s group in Canada used the very early signs of autism – social orienting – to develop a new intervention called the Social ABC’s which they piloted last year. Last week, a randomized clinical trial of this intervention showed improvements in social smiling, reactions to parents, and social orienting, suggesting it is a feasible and valid intervention option. There is now a list of these interventions that have been rigorously tested. This demonstrates that the early detection of features of autism, like temperament, can be turned into interventions to improve the outcome of toddlers with ASD.
In order to ensure that researchers have enough brain tissue to understand autism spectrum disorders, the education and outreach campaign is being expanded past families to doctors and professionals that have access to tissue. One of these groups is neuropathologists. At their annual meeting this past week in Los Angeles, and entire afternoon was spent dedicated to autism and the features of autism in the brain. A summary of the presentations is included in this podcast. Speakers emphasized that the way the brain works in childhood is not the same way it works in adulthood, and a study out of UCSD showed that the genes that are affected in children with autism are different than those in adults with autism. The mechanisms of genes controlling the developing brain vs. those which affect ongoing maintenance are different. This calls to make sure scientists understand all ages of people with autism, because as the brain changes, so do the needs of people with ASD.
This week two new publications reported on systematic reviews for nutritional and sensory treatments for ASD. This means the existing research was sorted, summarized, scrutinized and evaluated. They found insufficient evidence to show any dietary or nutritional therapy was effective, but sufficient evidence that sensory integration therapy helps people with ASD. In light of new data on heavy metals found in baby teeth, it’s important to remember that chelation is NOT effective and dangerous. While “insufficient evidence” does not rule out these interventions forever and always, lots more needs to be done in these areas to conduct rigorous experiments that don’t have any major shortcomings so they hold up to scrutiny.