In 40 minutes, ASF summarizes the highlights in autism research from before diagnosis through adulthood. It includes new intervention studies, ways to better diagnose ASD, to understand symptoms, females, sexuality, employment, neurobiology, genetics, and gene x environment interactions. The major themes are the “H” word, or heterogeneity in symptoms across the spectrum, ways to make the broad spectrum smaller, and how big data approaches are helping make this happen. Thank you to families who participated in research and tireless autism researchers for lending their skills to answer the tough questions. And of course, thank you all for listening to these podcasts all year long. The transcript with all the references used will be posted on the ASF blog in the upcoming days.
Identifying subtypes for autism and narrowing down the heterogeneity of symptoms has been considered the holy grail of autism research. If one person with autism is not like another person with autism, can they at least be put into groups to speed up studies into causes, intervention and services? And how? This podcast explains two different studies that used the same statistical method but different children with autism to identify different groups. One of the things that helped define these groups was verbal ability and IQ. For the first time, comorbid symptoms like medical issues and psychiatric diagnoses are being taken into account. Already, this approach is helping scientists better understand why fever improves symptoms in some people with autism.
This week’s International Meeting for Autism Research was filled with important presentations on the multiple causes of autism, interventions, diagnosis, neurobiology, services, family and self-advocate perspectives, the list goes on and on. There is a great recap on www.spectrumnews.org. An underlying theme ran through the presentations. That is, that the previous “well, we don’t see differences because there is lots of heterogeneity in autism” explanation isn’t cutting it anymore. We know people with autism are different, and parents, self-advocates and researchers are starting to deal with it by stratifying groups by their genetic backgrounds. While not a complete solution to this challenge, research at IMFAR shows that identifying different subgroups based on genetics is helping to explain symptoms.