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Autism News

Disagreement, progress on five years since DSM-5

Washington, D.C. — It was five years ago that the American Psychiatric Association released the current edition of its authoritative, industry-dominating reference on all things mental-health related—including autism.


The 2013 publication of the fifth edition of the Diagnostic and Statistical Manual (DSM-5) brought with it several critical changes to the diagnostic and treatment of autism.  Those include the birthing of the phrase “autism spectrum disorder” (ASD), and the absorption-elimination of Asperger’s as a standalone diagnosis. 


Some believe, however, that the growing prevalence of autism is simply because of the DSM-5’s more expansive definition of ASD—meaning that more children are being diagnosed as being on the spectrum when what they have is not actually autism.



Adult, teen research dominates global autism conference

Rotterdam, Netherlands — The 2018 annual meeting of the International Society for Autism Research (INSAR), held in this Dutch port city this past May, was dominated by several key themes. Among them were: adults and teenagers on the spectrum; gender in autism; the search for autism biomarkers (99 genes, not 65, per newest research); and genetics of autism and co-occurring conditions.


Involving people on the spectrum and their families as partners in setting research agendas was also a common (and recurring) theme.


The event’s keynote address, by MIT’s Prof. Rosalind Picard’s, detailed the use of electrodermal activity to predict certain behaviors in people with autism.


The meeting brought together autism researchers from across the field and all over the world to present their latest findings and exchange ideas.



Eye’s pupillary reflex may predict autism

Uppsala, Sweden — According to recent research at Uppsala University, the pupillary light reflex—or how the eye’s pupil responds to light—in infants might be an early sign of autism.


Since autism can be quite difficult to diagnose in the first years of a child’s life, researchers have been looking for new ways to spot it.  A recently developed blood test, for instance, may be able to detect the condition with up to 92 percent accuracy, while other researchers have turned to the sensory symptoms of the condition to aid diagnosis.


Because autism is known for sometimes being accompanied by either over- or under-sensitivity to certain stimuli, some researchers believe that the more basic blocks of brain development and sensory processing might hold the key to an earlier and more accurate diagnosis of autism.


In that vein, Uppsala researchers compared 147 infants who had an older sibling with autism with 40 typical infants.  All participants had their eyes’ pupillary responses to light first measured at ten months of age; they were then regularly followed until age three, at which point they were evaluated for autism.


The study found that the children who eventually met autism criteria also showed a stronger pupillary response than those who did not.  Also, the amount of pupil constriction in infancy was associated with the strength of autism symptoms at three years old.


The study was published recently in Nature Communications.



Despite landmark 2017 Supreme Court ruling, school districts still winning most special-ed disputes


In March 2017, the U.S. Supreme Court unanimously found for the plaintiff in the landmark Endrew F. v. Douglas County School District case.


The court ruled 8-0 that public-school children with disabilities must be provided with special-ed services that do more than meet minimal educational standards.


At the time, the decision was hailed by disability advocates who saw it as ushering in a new era of significantly more supports and services for students with disabilities in public schools.


But in the year since the landmark verdict, school districts are still winning most disputes over individualized education programs for students with disabilities, a new analysis finds.


To see if Endrew F. v. Douglas County School District had changed legal outcomes in the ruling’s aftermath, Lehigh University’s Prof. Perry Zirkel looked at 49 appeals of hearing officer decisions nationwide which had been predominantly in favor of school districts.


Prof. Zirkel found that in cases where a school district had won before the high court ruling, 90 percent of those decisions were upheld in the 12 months after the high court ruling.  The analysis was published recently in West’s Education Law Reporter.


Wearable sensors may predict aggression in people with autism

Rotterdam, Netherlands — A prototype watch-like wrist sensor can signal to caregivers that a nonverbal individual with autism is in distress.

The wristband device gives caregivers a one-minute warning that an individual with autism is about to become aggressive toward himself or others. Unpublished results for the device were debuted at the INSAR conference here.

The device, made by the Massachusetts-based biotech firm Empatica, detects an individual’s heart rate, sweat levels, movement and skin temperature.

Combining that data using complex algorithms, the sensor predicts an aggressive outburst with 70 percent accuracy, according to researchers—who say that its accuracy rises to 84 percent when it’s provided with the individual’s personal data.