A message for MLK’s birthday and a better way diagnose anxiety

Happy MLK day – a day when we recognize a man for his contribution in justice, tolerance, equality and service, I highlight a supreme court case which affects how those with special needs are fighting for justice and equality.   Also, over the holidays, Dr. Connor Kerns from Drexel University published how a new tool to diagnose anxiety in those with autism was validated, setting the stage for its use by physicians and clinicians who don’t have a lot of experience with autism to help better understand the symptoms of their patients.

Those confusing folate findings explained

During IMFAR, a study was presented that showed that women with very high levels of folate during pregnancy showed an increased risk of having a child with autism. The media took this to mean that taking too many prenatal vitamins caused autism. ugh. This week, those findings are discussed. Also published this week is a well-designed, long awaited study which examines the theory that too little folate in the central nervous system is the culprit behind autism. Too little folate in the brain is not the culprit, and too much in the blood may be coincidental to something else causing autism. It’s important to have a balance so don’t hesitate to take a prenatal if you are trying to get pregnant.

Also, because you may be IMFAR’d out – we highlight the exciting findings that cognitive behavioral therapy for treating anxiety in people with ASD is not only effective in clinical settings, but in school settings. This has implications people with ASD in special needs classrooms who need treatments for anxiety.

What you missed at the ASF 3rd annual Day of Learning

If you couldn’t make it to the ASF Day of Learning last week, this week’s podcast provides a 10 minute summary. Not the same as being there, but it will do. We will have videos of each presentation up soon, but this provides a quick recap. Researchers from basic science, translational research and those with a clinical perspective provided 12 minute summaries of different research areas. This included studying autism behaviors in mice, the role of single gene disorders to autism where there are hundreds of genes involved, understanding anxiety and technologies in the classroom to mitigate stress reactions, understanding recurrence of autism in the children of siblings with ASD, and resilience in females. The podcast also includes pictures from the event.

What if it isn’t autism?

Many times signs and symptoms of autism may be seen prior to 3 years of age, but a diagnosis is not made.  It may not be autism, but what is it?  Studying children at risk for developing ASD but then don’t go on to receive a diagnosis gives researchers a clue.  Dr. Meghan Miller from the University of California at Davis discusses a study that follows up these kids to 9 years of age and finds out what is going on with them.  Do they have autism after all?  Or do they have absolutely no symptoms at all?  Or is there something in between?

Sex differences in autism symptoms, and anxiety and depression too

Dr. Katherine Gotham from Vanderbilt University graciously joins us to talk about changes in anxiety and depression in females and males with autism across time and why these findings have consequences for diagnosis and treatment of not just autism but co-occuring conditions.  Also, males and females with autism have differences in brain structure that may explain some symptoms of autism.  You may have read the story in the media but hear the breakdown on this week’s podcast.

Can people with autism lose their diagnosis?

Researchers have been studying a small group of individuals who were diagnosed with autism, then later no longer met criteria for diagnosis.  Most of these people received early intense behavioral intervention before the age of 3, and what is called “optimal outcome” by researchers is the exception, not the rule.  However, a new study explores where they are no longer showing symptoms, and where they still are.  Also, ASF postdoctoral fellow Aarthi Padmanabhan explains her data on the brain structure of girls and boys with autism.  A sneak peak:  girls are different than boys.

Help for symptoms of anxiety in autism and understanding very early signs of autism in girls

About 40% of individuals with autism experience symptoms of anxiety. Despite this, clinicians still treat anxiety in autism the same way they treat anxiety in people without autism because there has not been enough research.  However, this week a new study was published which reviews and summarizes almost a dozen studies on Cognitive Behavioral Therapy in autism, showing that it is effective when given in group and individual sessions.  Also, I talk to Dr. Clare Harrop from UCLA about why it isn’t enough to study people with autism at just younger ages or at older ages, and what types of research is needed.