Autism Research: A Decade of Acceptance

autism research

What is the latest research on autism?

Autism is a complex neurodevelopmental disorder that affects approximately 1 in 36 children in the United States, according to the CDC. Over the past decade, there have been significant advancements in our understanding of autism and how to support individuals with this condition effectively, including the changes in the diagnosis criteria.

But what is the latest research on autism? One of the breakthroughs in autism research over the past decade has been understanding the spectrum. This advance means that individuals with autism can present with a wide range of symptoms and abilities, making each person’s experience unique. This recognition has led to a shift in how we view and approach autism, moving away from a one-size-fits-all approach and towards individualized support and treatment plans.

In the last ten years, autism research has concentrated on improving our understanding of this complex condition, refining the diagnostic process, and expanding the treatment options available to affected families. Scientists, autism specialists, and hundreds of millions of dollars in research have generated relevant, high-quality output, insights, and revelations that have profoundly and positively changed the lives of many in this often misunderstood, underrecognized population.

In this blog, we will explore the critical discoveries in autism research and the importance of ABA Centers of New Jersey in promoting acceptance and providing evidence-based treatment with Applied Behavior Analysis (ABA) therapy for individuals with autism.

Is Autism Hereditable?

Previous research suggests that there is a genetic component to developing ASD, meaning that it can have a hereditary aspect. In a study from 1977 by the Journal of Child Psychology and Psychiatry, researchers found that the difference in concordance for autism between identical twins (MZ) and fraternal twins (DZ) was significant. The much larger difference in concordance for cognitive disorder also emphasized the high heritability factors in the development of autism. 

In addition, a recent study by Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences uncovered a distinctive pattern in autistic children hailing from multiplex families, revealing an elevated presence of rare inherited protein-truncating variants within established autism risk genes. Additionally, the study shed light on the transmission of ASD polygenic risk from nonautistic parents to their autistic offspring, particularly those carrying rare inherited variants. This observation suggests a potential interplay of genetic factors in the offspring, offering insights into the diminished penetrance of these rare variants in parental generations.

Moreover, the study delved into the correlation between ASD polygenic score (PGS) over transmission of social dysfunction and language delay. This link underscores the possibility that language delay might be an inherent biological characteristic of ASD, challenging the prevailing notion that it is not a fundamental clinical criterion.

While genetics can play a role in the development of autism, it’s important to note that it is a complex condition influenced by a combination of genetic, environmental, and neurological factors.

Genes Linked to Autism

Over the past decade, researchers have made significant strides in understanding gene expression and its connection to autism through analyzing the SPARK gene list. This list encompasses genes, variants, and chromosomal differences linked to ASD. These advancements have enabled scientists to identify de novo variants in genes. A de novo mutation is a genetic alteration observed for the first time in a single family member, stemming from a mutation in the parent’s sperm or egg. Alternatively, the variant may manifest in the fertilized egg during early embryonic development.

Notably, robust de novo alterations in specific genes elevate the risk of autism by 20 to 50 times compared to individuals lacking these variants. This fact indicates that nearly everyone having a particular genetic variant is associated with autism. Importantly, these variations are not inherited from parents but can still contribute to ASD.

While these mutations are not prevalent in the general population, they significantly amplify the likelihood of autism, underscoring the role of genetic diversity in the development of autism spectrum disorder. These discoveries serve as invaluable tools for neurobiologists. Although these variants do not fully account for autism, the knowledge gained provides deeper insights into the biology of autism and the functioning of the brain.

Heightened Sensitivity and Tactile Perception

In the latest edition of the Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders (DSM-V), sensory abnormalities are part of the diagnostic criteria for autism. Approximately 90% of individuals on the spectrum exhibit atypical sensory experiences characterized by heightened reactivity (hyper-reactivity) and reduced responsiveness (hypo-reactivity).

The connection between autism and sensory challenges isn’t a recent discovery. Dr. Leo Kanner, one of the pioneers in describing autism, incorporated unconventional sensory behaviors into his observations. These included increased sensitivity to noise and touch, fascination with visual patterns and spinning objects, and engaging in finger-stimming gestures in front of the eyes.

Recent research from Current Psychiatry Reports reveals that mice with mutations in ASD-related genes, including Shank3, Fmr1, UBE3A, and Mecp2, exhibit abnormalities in tactile responses. Contrary to previous beliefs, some of these abnormalities stem from changes in the peripheral nervous system (PNS) rather than alterations in central nervous system (CNS) processing. The research emphasizes the growing evidence that peripheral mechanisms may contribute to core symptoms of ASD, including social deficits and tactile sensory sensitivities.

What to Expect Now?

In the past decade, researchers have made significant progress in unraveling the complexities of autism, shedding light on its origins and potential therapeutic avenues. The acknowledgment that both genetic factors and environmental influences contribute to the development of autism has revolutionized our understanding of the condition.

This newfound insight has paved the way for improved support systems and led to the development of effective treatments such as ABA therapy. ABA, a widely recognized and evidence-based intervention, plays a pivotal role in enhancing the lives of individuals with autism by focusing on behavior modification and skill-building.

Looking ahead to the next ten years of autism research, we can expect even more profound revelations that could shape the future for individuals on the spectrum and their families. The continued dedication and concerted efforts of researchers, practitioners, and autism advocates will undoubtedly contribute to a deeper comprehension of this complex condition.

ABA Centers of New Jersey and Autism Research

As we look back on the progress made in autism research over the years, the journey has been one of discovery, collaboration, and hope. Looking towards the future, the continued commitment to understanding and embracing neurodiversity promises even more breakthroughs and improved outcomes for individuals on the autism spectrum.

At ABA Centers of New Jersey, we understand the challenges individuals and families face with autism. That’s why we aim to provide support through our ABA therapy, the only evidence-based therapy for autism.

Whether in Cherry Hill, Hoboken, East Brunswick, Saddle Brook, or anywhere in between, if you would like to learn more about our ABA therapy or insurance coverage, contact us here or call us at (855) 957-1892 to schedule an appointment with our ABA professionals.

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