The brain is developing even after birth. So interventions that are given very early have the best chance of remolding and rewiring a brain with autism to prevent autism related disabilities. This week, a group from the University of London, Duke University and University of Washington measured brain activity during tasks that required social attention following 2 months of very very very early intervention. They found that the way the brain responded to social stimuli was more like those without an autism diagnosis. This study shows a biological marker of brain function is altered after behavioral interventions that are intended to do just that – change the way the brain functions.
Biomarkers can help distinguish different types of features but this week they were used to predict who would respond to Pivotal Response Training, or PRT. Researchers, led by Pam Ventral at Yale looked at how the brain responded to a social or non social situation as well as baseline features on standardized measures. Remarkably, these brain signatures were better at standard behavioral assessments at determining who would respond most positively to PRT. This study has enormous implications for personalized medicine approach and demonstrates how early studies in biomarkers many years ago have paid off for those with autism.
Three important meetings of researchers took place this week. First, the Interagency Autism Coordinating Committee, or IACC, met for the first time in over a year to discuss the coordination of private and federal efforts in autism research and advocacy. Also, the Autism Sisters Project science committee met to figure out how they are going to find the female protective factor in autism, and what else the study can do when, and if, it is found. Finally, a group of researchers who study autism in high risk families, before a formal diagnosis can be made, met to understand how the brains of people with autism are connected. They also are working on new instruments to better diagnose both males and females with ASD. Finally, in a press release from Tuesday, the NIH announced a partnership that will substantially improve autism research.
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.
New studies were published this week highlighting differences, or lack of differences, in males and females with autism. This podcast explores one of these theories called the ‘Extreme Male Brain’ theory which is actively studied by Simon Baron-Cohen’s lab in the United Kingdom. While this theory suggests that males and females with autism are more alike than different, another study focused on those individuals with autism who were not diagnosed until later in life. Were they able to mask their symptoms for autism and slide under the radar and how? In this group, males and females are more different than alike, which reinforces the ideas that you can’t study people with autism without studying people without autism, and that the differences between males and females may be subtle, based on context, and time of life.
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.