Autism



Autism is classified as a neurodevelopmental disorder which manifests itself in markedly abnormal social interaction, communication ability, patterns of interests, and patterns of behavior. Although the specific aetiology of autism is unknown, many researchers suspect that autism results from genetically mediated vulnerabilities to environmental triggers.

While there is disagreement about the magnitude, nature, and mechanisms for such environmental factors, researchers have found seven genes prevalent among individuals diagnosed as autistic. Some estimate that autism occurs in as many as one United States child in 166, however the National Institute of Mental Health gives a more conservative estimate of one in 1000.

For families that already have one autistic child, the odds of a second autistic child may be as high as one in twenty. Although autism is about 3 to 4 times more common in boys, girls with the disorder tend to have more severe symptoms and greater cognitive impairment. Diagnosis is based on a list of psychiatric criteria, and a series of standardized clinical tests may also be used.

Autism may not be physiologically obvious. A complete physical and neurological evaluation will typically be part of diagnosing autism. Some now speculate that autism is not a single condition but a group of several distinct conditions that manifest in similar ways.

By definition, autism must manifest delays in "social interaction, language as used in social communication, or symbolic or imaginative play," with "onset prior to age 3 years", according to the Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders.

The ICD-10 also requires symptoms to be "manifest before the age of three years." There have been large increases in the reported incidence of autism, for reasons that are heavily debated by researchers in psychology and related fields within the scientific community.

Some children with autism have improved their social and other skills to the point where they can fully participate in mainstream education and social events, but there are no indications that a cure from autism is possible with current technology or advances in medicine.




History

The word autism was first used in the English language by Swiss psychiatrist Eugene Bleuler in a 1912 issue of the American Journal of Insanity. It comes from the Greek word for "self". Bleuler used it to describe the schizophrenic's seeming difficulty in connecting with other people.

However, the classification of autism did not occur until the middle of the twentieth century, when in 1943 psychiatrist Dr. Leo Kanner of the Johns Hopkins Hospital in Baltimore reported on 11 child patients with striking behavioral similarities, and introduced the label early infantile autism. He suggested "autism" from the Greek 'autos', meaning "self", to describe the fact that the children seemed to lack interest in other people.

Although Kanner's first paper on the subject was published in a now defunct journal, The Nervous Child, almost every characteristic he originally described is still regarded as typical of the autistic spectrum of disorders.

At the same time an Austrian scientist, Dr. Hans Asperger, made similar observations, although his name has since become attached to a different, "higher-functioning", form of autism known as Asperger's syndrome. However, widespread recognition of Asperger's work was delayed by World War II in Germany, and by the fact that his seminal paper wasn't translated into English for almost 50 years.

The majority of his work wasn't widely read until 1997.

These two conditions are today listed in the Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders DSM-IV-TR (fourth edition, text revision 1) as two of the five pervasive developmental disorders (PDD), more often referred to today as autism spectrum disorders (ASD).

All of these conditions are characterized by varying degrees of difference in communication skills, social interactions, and restricted, repetitive and stereotyped patterns of behavior.

Few clinicians today use only the DSM-IV criteria, which are based on the absence or delay of certain developmental milestones, to diagnose autism.




Terminology

Look up autism, autistic in Wiktionary, the free dictionary.When referring to someone diagnosed with autism, the term autistic is often used. However, the terms person with autism or person who experiences autism can be used instead. These are referred to as person-first terminology. The autistic community generally prefers the term autistic for reasons that are fairly controversial. This article uses the term autistic.




Characteristics

There is a great diversity in the skills and behaviors of individuals diagnosed as autistic, and physicians will often arrive at different conclusions about the appropriate diagnosis. Much of this is due to the sensory system of autistics, which is quite different from the sensory system of other people, since certain stimulations can affect an autist differently than a non-autist, and the degree to which the sensory system is affected varies wildly from one autistic person to another.

Nevertheless, professionals within pediatric care and development often look for early indicators of autism in order to initiate treatment as early as possible. However, some people do not believe in treatment for autism, either because they do not believe autism is a disorder or because they believe treatment can do more harm than good.




Social Development

Typically, developing infants are social beings - early in life they do such things as gaze at people, turn toward voices, grasp a finger, and even smile. In contrast, most autistic children prefer objects to faces and seem to have tremendous difficulty learning to engage in the give-and-take of everyday human interaction. Even in the first few months of life, many seem indifferent to other people because they avoid eye contact and do not interact with them as often as non-autistic children.

Children with autism often appear to prefer being alone to the company of others and may passively accept such things as hugs and cuddling without reciprocating, or resist attention altogether. Later, they seldom seek comfort from others or respond to parents' displays of anger or affection in a typical way. Research has suggested that although autistic children are attached to their parents, their expression of this attachment is unusual and difficult to interpret. Parents who looked forward to the joys of cuddling, teaching, and playing with their child may feel crushed by this lack of expected attachment behavior.

Children with autism often also appear to lack a "theory of mind", the ability to see things from another person's perspective, a behavior cited as exclusive to human beings above the age of five and, possibly, other higher primates such as adult gorillas, chimpanzees and bonobos. Typical 5-year-olds can develop insights into other people's different knowledge, feelings, and intentions, interpretations based upon social cues (e.g., gestures, facial expressions).

An individual with autism seems to lack these interpretation skills, an inability that leaves them unable to predict or understand other people's actions. The social alienation of autistic and Asperger's people can be so intense from childhood that many of them have imaginary friends as companionship.Although not universal, it is common for autistic people to not be able to regulate their behavior.

This can take the form of crying or verbal outbursts that may seem out of proportion to the situation or self-injurious behaviours. Individuals with autism generally prefer consistent routines and environments; they may react negatively to changes in them. It is not uncommon for these individuals to exhibit aggression, increased levels of self-stimulatory behavior, self-injury or extensive withdrawal in overwhelming situations.




Sensory System

A key indicator to clinicians making a proper assessment for autism would include looking for symptoms much like those found in sensory integration dysfunction. Children will exhibit problems coping with the normal sensory input. Indicators of this disorder include oversensitivity or under-reactivity to touch, movement, sights, or sounds; physical clumsiness or carelessness; poor body awareness; a tendency to be easily distracted; impulsive physical or verbal behavior; an activity level that is unusually high or low; not unwinding or calming oneself; difficulty learning new movements; difficulty in making transitions from one situation to another; social and/or emotional problems; delays in speech, language or motor skills; specific learning difficulties/delays in academic achievement.

One common example is an individual with autism hearing. A person with autism may have trouble hearing certain people while other people are louder than usual. Or the person with autism may be unable to filter out sounds in certain situations, such as in a large crowd of people (see cocktail party effect). However, this is perhaps the part of the autism that tends to vary the most from person to person, so these examples may not apply to every autistic person.




Communication Difficulties

By age 3, typical children have passed predictable language learning milestones; one of the earliest is babbling. By the first birthday, a typical toddler says words, turns when he or she hears his or her name, points when he or she wants a toy, and when offered something distasteful, makes it clear that the answer is "no." Speech development in people with autism takes different paths.

Some remain mute throughout their lives with varying degrees of literacy; communication in other ways - images, visual clues, sign language, and typing may be far more natural to them. Some infants who later show signs of autism coo and babble during the first few months of life, but stop soon afterwards. Others may be delayed, developing language as late as the teenage years. Still, inability to speak does not mean that people with autism are unintelligent or unaware. Once given appropriate accommodations, some will happily converse for hours, and can often be found in online chat rooms, discussion boards or websites and even using communication devices at autism-community social events such as Autreat.

Those who do speak often use language in unusual ways, retaining features of earlier stages of language development for long periods or throughout their lives. Some speak only single words, while others repeat the same phrase over and over. Some repeat what they hear, a condition called echolalia. Sing-song repetitions in particular are a calming, joyous activity that many autistic adults engage in. Many people with autism have a strong tonal sense, and can often understand spoken language. Some children may exhibit only slight delays in language, or even seem to have precocious language and unusually large vocabularies, but have great difficulty in sustaining typical conversations.

The "give and take" of non-autistic conversation is hard for them, although they often carry on a monologue on a favorite subject, giving no one else an opportunity to comment. When given the chance to converse with other autistics, they comfortably do so in "parallel monologue"—taking turns expressing views and information. Just as "neurotypicals" (people without autism) have trouble understanding autistic body languages, vocal tones, or phraseology, people with autism similarly have trouble with such things in people without autism. In particular, autistic language abilities tend to be highly literal; people without autism often inappropriately attribute hidden meaning to what people with autism say or expect the person with autism to sense such unstated meaning in their own words.

The body language of people with autism can be difficult for other people to understand. Facial expressions, movements, and gestures may be easily understood by some other people with autism, but do not match those used by other people. Also, their tone of voice has a much more subtle inflection in reflecting their feelings, and the auditory system of a person without autism often cannot sense the fluctuations. What seems to non-autistic people like a high-pitched, sing-song, or flat, robot-like voice is common in autistic children. Some autistic children with relatively good language skills speak like little adults, rather than communicating at their current age level, which is one of the things that can lead to problems.

Since non-autistic people are often unfamiliar with the autistic body language, and since autistic natural language may not tend towards speech, autistic people often struggle to let other people know what they need. As anybody might do in such a situation, they may scream in frustration or resort to grabbing what they want. While waiting for non-autistic people to learn to communicate with them, people with autism do whatever they can to get through to them. Communication difficulties may contribute to autistic people becoming socially anxious or depressed or prone to self-injurious behaviors.




Repetitive Behavior Patterns

Although people with autism usually appear physically normal and have good muscle control, unusual repetitive motions, known as self-stimulation or "stimming," may set them apart. These behaviors might be extreme and highly apparent or more subtle. Some children and older individuals spend a lot of time repeatedly flapping their arms or wiggling their toes, others suddenly freeze in position. As children, they might spend hours lining up their cars and trains in a certain way, not using them for pretend play. If someone accidentally moves one of these toys, the child may be tremendously upset. Autistic children often need, and demand, absolute consistency in their environment.

A slight change in any routine - in mealtimes, dressing, taking a bath, or going to school at a certain time and by the same route - can be extremely disturbing to them. People with autism sometimes have a persistent, intense preoccupation. For example, the child might be obsessed with learning all about computers, movie schedules or lighthouses. Often they show great interest in different languages, numbers, symbols or science topics. Repetitive behaviors can also extend into the spoken word as well. Perseveration of a single word or phrase, even for a specific number of times can also become a part of the child's daily routine.




Effects in Education

Children with autism are affected with these symptoms every day. These unusual characteristics set them apart from the everyday normal student. Because they have trouble understanding people’s thoughts and feelings, they have trouble understanding what their teacher may be telling them. They do not understand that facial expressions and vocal variations hold meanings and may misinterpret what emotion their instructor is displaying. This inability to fully decipher the world around them makes education stressful.

Teachers need to be aware of a student's disorder so that they are able to help the student get the best out of the lessons being taught.Some students learn better with visual aids as they are better able to understand material presented this way. Because of this, many teachers create “visual schedules” for their autistic students. This allows the student to know what is going on throughout the day, so they know what to prepare for and what activity they will be doing next. Some autistic children have trouble going from one activity to the next, so this visual schedule can help to reduce stress.

Research has shown that working in pairs may be beneficial to autistic children. Autistic students have problems in schools not only with language and communication, but with socialization as well. They feel self-conscious about themselves and many feel that they will always be outcasts. By allowing them to work with peers they can make friends, which in turn can help them cope with the problems that arise. By doing so they can become more integrated into the mainstream environment of the classroom.

A teacher's aide can also be useful to the student. The aide is able to give more elaborate directions that the teacher may not have time to explain to the autistic child. The aide can also facilitate the autistic child in such a way as to allow them to stay at a similar level to the rest of the class. This allows a partially one-on-one lesson structure so that the child is still able to stay in a normal classroom but be given the extra help that they need.

There are many different techniques that teachers can use to assist their students. A teacher needs to become familiar with the child’s disorder to know what will work best with that particular child. Every child is going to be different and teachers have to be able to adjust with every one of them.

Students with Autism Spectrum Disorders typically have high levels of anxiety and stress, particularly in social environments like school. If a student exhibits aggressive or explosive behavior, it is important for educational teams to recognize the impact of stress and anxiety.

Preparing students for new situations by writing Social Stories can lower anxiety. Teaching social and emotional concepts using systematic teaching approaches such as The Incredible 5-Point Scale or other Cognitive Behavioral strategies can increase a student's ability to control excessive behavioral reactions.




Types of Autism

Autism presents in a wide degree, from those who are nearly dysfunctional and apparently mentally handicapped to those whose symptoms are mild or remedied enough to appear unexceptional ("normal") to the general public. In terms of both classification and therapy, autistic individuals are often divided into those with an IQ 80 referred to as having "low-functioning autism" (LFA), while those with IQ>80 are referred to as having "high-functioning autism" (HFA).

Low and high functioning are more generally applied to how well an individual can accomplish activities of daily living, rather than to IQ. The terms low and high functioning are controversial and not all autistics accept these labels. Further, these two labels are not currently used or accepted in autism literature.

This discrepancy can lead to confusion among service providers who equate IQ with functioning and may refuse to serve high-IQ autistic people who are severely compromised in their ability to perform daily living tasks, or may fail to recognize the intellectual potential of many autistic people who are considered LFA.

For example, some professionals refuse to recognize autistics who can speak or write as being autistic at all, because they still think of autism as a communication disorder so severe that no speech or writing is possible.

As a consequence, many "high-functioning" autistic persons, and autistic people with a relatively high IQ, are underdiagnosed, thus making the claim that "autism implies retardation" self-fulfilling. The number of people diagnosed with LFA is not rising quite as sharply as HFA, indicating that at least part of the explanation for the apparent rise is probably better diagnostics.




Asperger's and Kanner's Syndrome

In the current Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders (DSM-IV-TR), the most significant difference between Autistic Disorder (Kanner's) and Asperger's syndrome is that a diagnosis of the former includes the observation of "[d]elays or abnormal functioning in at least one of the following areas, with onset prior to age 3 years:

While the DSM-IV does not include level of intellectual functioning in the diagnosis, the fact that those with Asperger's syndrome tend to perform better than those with Kanner's autism has produced a popular conception that Asperger's syndrome is synonymous with "higher-functioning autism," or that it is a lesser disorder than autism.

Similarly, there is a popular conception that autistic individuals with a high level of intellectual functioning in fact have Asperger's syndrome, or that both types are merely 'geeks' with a medical label attached.

The popular depiction of autism in the media has been of relatively severe cases, for example, as seen in the films Rain Man (autistic adult) and Mercury Rising (autistic child), and in turn many relatives of those who have been diagnosed in the autistic spectrum choose to speak of their loved ones as having Asperger's syndrome rather than autism.




Autism as a Spectrum Disorder

Another view of these disorders is that they are on a continuum known as autistic spectrum disorders. A related continuum is Sensory Integration Dysfunction, which is about how well we integrate the information we receive from our senses. Autism, Asperger's syndrome, and Sensory Integration Dysfunction are all closely related and overlap.

There are two main manifestations of classical autism, regressive autism and early infantile autism. Early infantile autism is present at birth while regressive autism begins before the age of 3 and often around 18 months. Although this causes some controversy over when the neurological differences involved in autism truly begin, some believe that it is only a matter of when an environmental toxin triggers the disorder. This triggering could occur during gestation due to a toxin that enters the mother's body and is transferred to the fetus. The triggering could also occur after birth during the crucial early nervous system development of the child due to a toxin directly entering the child's body.




Increase in diagnoses of autism


The number of reported cases of autism has increased dramatically over the past decade. Statistics in graph from the National Center for Health Statistics.

There has been an explosion worldwide in reported cases of autism over the last ten years, which is largely reminiscent of increases in the diagnosis of schizophrenia and multiple personality disorder in the twentieth century. This has brought rise to a number of different theories as to the nature of the sudden increase.

Epidemiologists argue that the rise in diagnoses in the United States is partly or entirely attributable to changes in diagnostic criteria, reclassifications, public awareness, and the incentive to receive federally mandated services. A widely cited study from the M.I.N.D. Institute in California (17 October 2002), claimed that the increase in autism is real, even after those complicating factors are accounted for (see reference in this section below).

Other researchers remain unconvinced, including Dr. Chris Johnson, a professor of pediatrics at the University of Texas Health Sciences Center at San Antonio and cochair of the American Academy of Pediatrics Autism Expert Panel, who says, "There is a chance we're seeing a true rise, but right now I don't think anybody can answer that question for sure." (Newsweek reference below).

The answer to this question has significant ramifications on the direction of research, since a real increase would focus more attention (and research funding) on the search for environmental factors, while little or no real increase would focus more attention to genetics. On the other hand, it is conceivable that certain environmental factors (vaccination, diet, societal changes) may have a particular impact on people with a specific genetic constitution. There is little public research on the effects of in vitro fertilization on the number of incidences of autism.




One of the more popular theories is that there is a connection between "geekdom" and autism. This is hinted, for instance, by a Wired Magazine article in 2001 entitled "The Geek Syndrome", which is a point argued by many in the autism rights movement. This article, many professionals assert, is just one example of the media's application of mental disease labels to what is actually variant normal behavior - they argue that shyness, lack of athletic ability or social skills, and intellectual interests, even when they seem unusual to others, are not in themselves signs of autism or Asperger's syndrome.

Others assert that it is actually the medical profession which is applying mental disease labels to children who in the past would have simply been accepted as a little different or even labeled 'gifted'.

Due to the recent publicity surrounding autism and autistic spectrum disorders, an increasing number of adults are choosing to seek diagnoses of high-functioning autism or Asperger's syndrome in light of symptoms they currently experience or experienced during childhood. Since the cause of autism is thought to be at least partly genetic, a proportion of these adults seek their own diagnosis specifically as follow-up to their children's diagnoses. Because autism falls into the pervasive developmental disorder category, strictly speaking, symptoms must have been present in a given patient before age seven in order to make a differential diagnosis.

Causes of Autism

Autism Therapies

Autistic Culture

Autistic Adults

Autistic Savant

Autism Wikipedia




Autism in the News ...


Gene duplications associated with autism evolved recently in human history   PhysOrg - October 19, 2014
Human geneticists have discovered that a region of the genome associated with autism contains genetic variation that evolved in the last 250,000 years, after the divergence of humans from ancient hominids, and likely plays an important role in disease.




Presence or absence of early language delay alters anatomy of the brain in autism   PhysOrg - September 23, 2014
A new study led by researchers from the University of Cambridge has found that a common characteristic of autism - language delay in early childhood - leaves a 'signature' in the brain.The researchers studied 80 adult men with autism: 38 who had delayed language onset and 42 who did not. They found that language delay was associated with differences in brain volume in a number of key regions, including the temporal lobe, insula, ventral basal ganglia, which were all smaller in those with language delay; and in brainstem structures, which were larger in those with delayed language onset.




Timeline of human origins revised: New synthesis of research links changing environment with Homo's evolutionary adaptability   Science Daily - July 5, 2014
Many traits unique to humans were long thought to have originated in the genus Homo between 2.4 and 1.8 million years ago in Africa. Although scientists have recognized these characteristics for decades, they are reconsidering the true evolutionary factors that drove them. Many traits unique to humans were long thought to have originated in the genus Homo between 2.4 and 1.8 million years ago in Africa. Although scientists have recognized these characteristics for decades, they are reconsidering the true evolutionary factors that drove them.




Autism 'begins long before birth'   BBC - March 27, 2014

Scientists say they have new evidence that autism begins in the womb. Patchy changes in the developing brain long before birth may cause symptoms of autism spectrum disorder (ASD), research suggests. US scientists analyzed post-mortem brain tissue of 22 children with and without autism, all between two and 15 years of age. They used genetic markers to look at how the outermost part of the brain, the cortex, wired up and formed layers. Abnormalities were found in 90% of the children with autism compared with only about 10% of children without. The changes were dotted about in brain regions involved in social and emotional communication, and language, long before birth, they say.




For Kids with Autism, Sights and Sounds Are Disjoined   Live Science - January 14, 2014

The world for children with autism may resemble watching a movie with the audio out of sync. New research shows these children have trouble putting together what they see with what they hear, and that these deficits may underlie their speech and communication problems. For most people, the signals arriving in the brain from the ears and the eyes within a time window of 100 to 200 milliseconds, are put together, to form one perception. For example, hearing the sound of a word and seeing the movement of lips together creates the perception of a spoken word. The new study showed that in children with autism, the time window for binding signals together is wider, meaning that the brain integrates events that happened as much as half a second (500 milliseconds) apart, and should have been perceived as separate events, according to the study.




Study reveals senses of sight and sound separated in children with autism   PhysOrg - January 14, 2014
The study is the first to illustrate the link and strongly suggests that deficits in the sensory building blocks for language and communication can ultimately hamper social and communication skills in children with autism. The study found that children with autism have an enlargement in something known as the temporal binding window (TBW), meaning the brain has trouble associating visual and auditory events that happen within a certain period of time.




People with Autism More Likely to Hear Colors, See Sounds   Live Science - November 20, 2013
People with autism may be more likely than others to have synesthesia, a condition in which people experience a mixing of their senses, such as hearing tastes and shapes, and seeing numbers in colors, a new study from Europe suggests. Researchers tested 164 people with autism and 97 people without autism by giving them online questionnaires designed to evaluate whether they had synesthesia. They found synesthesia occurred in about 7 percent of people who didn't have autism, a figure within the range of previously reported rates. In contrast, 19 percent of people with autism appeared to have synesthesia.




Study finds that a subset of children often considered to have autism may be misdiagnosed   PhysOrg - September 18, 2013
Children with a genetic disorder called 22q11.2 deletion syndrome, who frequently are believed to also have autism, often may be misidentified because the social impairments associated with their developmental delay may mimic the features of autism, a study by researchers with the UC Davis MIND Institute suggests. The study is the first to examine autism in children with chromosome 22q11.2 deletion syndrome, in whom the prevalence of autism has been reported at between 20 and 50 percent, using rigorous gold-standard diagnostic criteria. The research found that none of the children with 22q11.2 deletion syndrome "met strict diagnostic criteria" for autism. The researchers said the finding is important because treatments designed for children with autism, such as widely used discrete-trial training methods, may exacerbate the anxiety that is commonplace among the population.




Traits of Autism Seen in Some Kids with ADHD   Live Science - August 26, 2013
Nearly one in five children with attention-deficit/hyperactivity disorder (ADHD) have traits that are common among children with autism, and having these traits appears to increase children's risk of experiencing impairments in their everyday lives, a new study suggests. Among children in the study with ADHD, 18 percent had autistic traits, while less than 1 percent of children without ADHD had such traits. Children with ADHD and autistic traits were more likely to get in fights, be rejected by their peers, and have problems in school and with their siblings, compared with children with ADHD who did not have the autistic profile, the researchers said in their study.




Is It Possible to Recover from Autism?   Scientific American - July 29, 2013
A study, published the Journal of Child Psychology and Psychiatry, suggests that for some people, the answer is yes. The researchers found that some individuals who had been diagnosed with autism as young children no longer had symptoms - such as difficulty interacting and communicating with others, rigid adherence to rituals and routines, and repetitive movements of their bodies and objects - when they were older.




Detecting Autism from Brain Activity   Science Daily - April 17, 2013
Neuroscientists from Case Western Reserve University School of Medicine and the University of Toronto have developed an efficient and reliable method of analyzing brain activity to detect autism in children. The researchers recorded and analyzed dynamic patterns of brain activity with magnetoencephalography (MEG) to determine the brain's functional connectivity - that is, its communication from one region to another. MEG measures magnetic fields generated by electrical currents in neurons of the brain.




Five psychiatric disorders 'linked'   BBC - March 1, 2013
Autism, attention deficit-hyperactivity disorder, bipolar disorder, major depressive disorder and schizophrenia all share several genetic risk factors, according to a major study. Versions of four genes increased the odds of all five disorders. Researchers hope to move the psychiatry away from describing symptoms towards fundamentally understanding what is going wrong in the brain.




Study: Some Kids Outgrow Autism   News Max Health - January 16, 2013
Some children who are diagnosed with autism at an early age will ultimately shed all signs and symptoms of the disorder as they enter adolescence or young adulthood, a new analysis contends. Whether that happens because of aggressive interventions or whether it boils down to biology and genetics is still unclear, the researchers noted, although experts suspect it is most likely a combination of the two. The finding stems from a methodical analysis of 34 children who were deemed "normal" at the study's start, despite having been diagnosed with autism before the age of 5.




Boosting natural marijuana-like brain chemicals treats fragile X syndrome symptoms   PhysOrg - September 26, 2012
American and European scientists have found that increasing natural marijuana-like chemicals in the brain can help correct behavioral issues related to fragile X syndrome, the most common known genetic cause of autism.




New Genes Contributing to Autism Discovered; Genetic Links Between Neurodevelopment and Psychiatric Disorders   Science Daily - April 21, 2012
A new approach to investigating hard-to-find chromosomal abnormalities has identified 33 genes associated with autism and related disorders, 22 for the first time. Several of these genes also appear to be altered in different ways in individuals with psychiatric disorders such as schizophrenia, symptoms of which may begin in adolescence or adulthood. Results of the study by a multi-institutional research team will appear in the April 27 issue of Cell and have been released online




Early Autism Sign: Babies' Brain Responses to Eye Contact   Live Science - January 27, 2012
The way that babies as young as six months look at the eyes of other people may be an early sign of autism, a new study suggests. Researchers looked at brain scans of infants as they were shown pictures of faces, and those who were later diagnosed with autism showed marked differences in brain activity from those who were not later diagnosed with the condition when the eyes in the pictures were directed at the infants. The study included 104 babies who either had a higher risk of developing autism, because they had a sibling with the condition, or had no family history of autism. "This study takes us a step further in understanding what goes on in the brain that subsequently causes autism to emerge in children," said study researcher Mayada Elsabbagh, a scientist at McGill University in Canada.




The Hidden Potential of Autistic Kids   Live Science - November 30, 2011
When I was in fifth grade, my brother Alex started correcting my homework. This would not have been weird, except that he was in kindergarten—and autistic. His disorder, characterized by repetitive behaviors and difficulty with social interactions and communication, made it hard for him to listen to his teachers. He was often kicked out of class for not being able to sit for more than a few seconds at a time. Even now, almost 15 years later, he can still barely scratch out his name. But he could look at my page of neatly written words or math problems and pick out which ones were wrong.




Brain find sheds light on autism   BBC - November 28, 2011
Cells taken from people with a rare syndrome linked to autism could help explain the origins of the condition, scientists suggest. The Stanford University team turned skin cells from people with "Timothy syndrome" into fully-fledged brain cells. The abnormal activity found in these cells could be partially corrected using an experimental drug, Nature Medicine reports.




Autistic brains develop more slowly than healthy brains: study   PhysOrg - October 20, 2011
Researchers at UCLA have found a possible explanation for why autistic children act and think differently than their peers. For the first time, they've shown that the connections between brain regions that are important for language and social skills grow much more slowly in boys with autism than in non-autistic children.




Autistic facial characteristics identified   PhysOrg - October 20, 2011
The face and brain develop in coordination, with each influencing the other, beginning in the embryo and continuing through adolescence. Now, University of Missouri researchers have found distinct differences between the facial characteristics of children with autism compared to those of typically developing children. This knowledge could help researchers understand the origins of autism.




Biomarker for autism discovered   PhysOrg - July 12, 2011
Siblings of people with autism show a similar pattern of brain activity to that seen in people with autism when looking at emotional facial expressions. The University of Cambridge researchers identified the reduced activity in a part of the brain associated with empathy and argue it may be a 'biomarker' for a familial risk of autism.




Genetic Component of Autism Spectrum Disorders May Be Moderate Compared to Environment, Twin Study Suggests   Science Daily - July 4, 2011
After evaluating twin pairs in which at least one child has autism or autism spectrum disorder (ASD), researchers suggest that the shared environment may play a more substantial role in development of the condition than shared genes do




Balance tips toward environment as heritability ebbs in autism?   PhysOrg - July 4, 2011
The largest and most rigorous twin study of its kind to date has found that shared environment influences susceptibility to autism more than previously thought.




Researchers link spontaneous gene mutations to autism   PhysOrg - May 16, 2011
Using high-throughput gene sequencing technology, researchers have identified several harmful spontaneous gene mutations in children with autism spectrum disorders (ASDs) that may cause the disorder.




Brain Overgrowth in Tots Is Linked to Autism   Live Science - May 3, 2011
The brains of children who have autism spectrum disorder are larger than those of other children, a difference that seems to arise before they are 2 years old, according to a new study. In 2005, researchers from the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill found that 2-year-old children with autism had brains up to 10 percent larger than other children of the same age. This new study reveals that the children with enlarged brains at age 2 continued to have enlarged brains at ages 4 and 5, but by no more than the amount at age 2. Brain enlargement resulting from increased folding on the surface of the brain is most likely genetic in origin and a result of an increase in the proliferation of neurons in the developing brain.




Discovering Autism in One-year Olds

A five-minute questionnaire for parents is accurate enough to diagnose autism in children as young as one in three-quarters of the cases, claims study. Researchers said the checklist, which could be filled out in the waiting room of doctor's surgery, could help catch the condition earlier and lead to more effective treatment. Identifying Autism Spectrum Disorder (ASD) at an early age allows children to start treatment sooner, which can greatly improve their later development and learning.




Autism detected in voice of children   Telegraph.co.uk - July 21, 2010
Toddlers with the developmental disorder pronounce words differently to their healthy peers which can be picked up by a new automated vocal analysis system created by scientists. The device called LENA (Language Environment Analysis) could lead to the screening for autism spectrum disorders (ASD) for which early intervention is important.




World's Largest DNA Scan Reveals Rare Variants That Disrupt Gene Activity in Autistic Children   Science Daily - June 10, 2010
The world's largest DNA scan for familial autism has uncovered new genetic changes in autistic children that are often not present in their parents. Identified in less than 1 percent of the population, these rare variants occur nearly 20 percent more in autistic children.




Dozens of genetic mutations linked to autism in children discovered   Telegraph.co.uk - June 10, 2010
A new test for autism in children has come a step closer after the world's largest study into the disability discovered a number of genetic links to the condition.




Children with autistic traits remain undiagnosed   PhysOrg - March 22, 2010
There has been a major increase in the incidence of autism over the last twenty years. While people have differing opinions as to why this is (environment, vaccines, mother's age, better diagnostic practice, more awareness etc.) there are still many children who have autistic traits that are never diagnosed clinically. Therefore, they do not receive the support they need through educational or health services.




Autism's earliest symptoms not evident in children under 6 months   PhysOrg - February 16, 2010
A study of the development of autism in infants, comparing the behavior of the siblings of children diagnosed with autism to that of babies developing normally, has found that the nascent symptoms of the condition -- a lack of shared eye contact, smiling and communicative babbling - are not present at 6 months, but emerge gradually and only become apparent during the latter part of the first year of life.




New clue why autistic people don't want hugs   PhysOrg - February 11, 2010
Why do people with fragile X syndrome, a genetic defect that is the best-known cause of autism and inherited mental retardation, recoil from hugs and physical touch - even from their parents?




Vaccine-Autism Link Had Long, Inaccurate History   Live Science - February 11, 2010
This year thousands of children in Afghanistan will die from measles; they're among the quarter million of children worldwide who die annually from this preventable disease, a tragic situation that is at least improving. Meanwhile, in the United States this year, thousands of parents will deny the measles vaccine for their children, having heard from someone somewhere that vaccines cause autism. At the hub between these contrasting trajectories - measles deaths dropping from about a million to 250,000 annually since 1999 as a result of focused immunization programs, and measles on the rise year by year in the United States and United Kingdom since 1999 as a result of dramatic declines in immunization rates - is a 1998 study published in the Lancet that invented the vaccine-autism myth.




New study confirms link between advanced maternal age and autism   PhysOrg - February 8, 2010
Advanced maternal age is linked to a significantly elevated risk of having a child with autism, regardless of the father's age, according to an exhaustive study of all births in California during the 1990s by UC Davis Health System researchers. Advanced paternal age is associated with elevated autism risk only when the father is older and the mother is under 30, the study found.




How autistic brain distinguishes oneself from others   PhysOrg - December 14, 2009
Scientists at the University of Cambridge have discovered that the brains of individuals with autism are less active when engaged in self-reflective thought. The study published today in the journal Brain provides new evidence for the neural correlates of self-awareness and a new window into understanding social difficulties in autism spectrum conditions.




New gene linked to autism risk, especially in boys   PhysOrg - May 19, 2009
Classic autism strikes boys four times more often than girls. When including the entire spectrum of autism disorders, such as the milder Asperger syndrome, boys are diagnosed 10 times more often than girls.




Inherited Retardation And Autism Corrected In Mice Science Daily - December 20, 2007
Researchers at MIT's Picower Institute for Learning and Memory have corrected key symptoms of mental retardation and autism in mice. They have significantly alleviated a wide range of abnormalities due to fragile X syndrome by altering only a single gene, countering the effects of the fragile X mutation.




Autism symptoms reversed in lab BBC - June 28, 2007
Symptoms of mental retardation and autism have been reversed for the first time in laboratory mice. US scientists created mice that showed symptoms of Fragile X Syndrome - a leading cause of mental retardation and autism in humans.




Autism gene breakthrough hailed BBC - February 21, 2007
Scientists have found new autism genes by scanning the largest collection of families with multiple cases of autism ever assembled. The monumental task of studying the 1,200 families took more than 120 scientists from more than 50 institutions across 19 countries.




Scientists Decode Molecular Details Of Genetic Defect That Causes Autism Science Daily - September 26, 2006
Autism is one of the most common psychiatric illnesses. Around 0.5 percent of all young children have a syndrome belonging to the "autistic spectrum". The main symptoms of this developmental malfunction are delayed language development or no language development at all, disturbed social behavior and repetitive behavior patterns. In many patients, the disease is accompanied by mental disability. Autistic individuals exhibiting high intelligence or outstanding skills in a particular area, called "savants", such as the main character in the film "Rain Man", are rare.




'Copying' nerves broken in autism BBC - December 5, 2005

Abnormal activity in neurons that help individuals imitate others may underlie some of the social deficits found in autism, US researchers believe. A Nature Neuroscience study found autistic children had less brain activation in an area involved in understanding others' state of mind. The degree of activation of the 'mirror neurons' housed in this area correlated with measures of social impairment.




Research Reveals That Eye Contact Triggers Threat Response in Autistic Children Scientific American - March 2005

Children suffering from autism pay very little attention to faces, even those of people close to them. Indeed, this characteristic can become apparent as early as the age of one, and is often used as a developmental sign of the disease. The results of a new study provide additional insight into why autistic children avoid eye contact: they perceive faces as an uncomfortable threat, even if they are familiar.





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