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.
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.
What was impactful this year in autism research? This last podcast of 2015 explores the year of the female, highlighting the relatively new exploration into what makes females with ASD different and what they can tell us about everybody with autism and their families. Some of what is discussed was highlighted in other podcasts, but not all of it. The summary is organized so that what may initially be interpreted as small, nonsignificant discoveries, are viewed as progress. Everything from genetics to getting laws passed is included.