A recent publication in the Lancet was dedicated to clinical recommendations to support autistic females at birth. Because more males than females are diagnosed with autism, their needs are often misunderstood, misinterpreted, or just ignored. Researchers, clinicians, scientists, parents and self-advocates from around the world joined together to identify those needs and propose solutions that can be implemented in everyday care. Listen to this week’s podcast episode to learn more, or read the article in its entirety at the link below.
Everyone who has looked for support for autism spectrum disorder is familiar with waitlists. Waitlists for evaluation, diagnosis, intervention, consultations and referrals. These waitlists prevent important opportunities for services and many groups developing technologies, policies, and approaches to reduce the waitlists or work around them. On this week’s podcast, we talk to Dr. Sharief Taraman from Cognoa to hear about their recent study on the scope of the problem on waitlists, what causes them, and how digital therapeutics may help them.
Nobody ever talks about catatonia in autism. This podcast explores the symptoms of catatonia, how to measure it, what parents should know about tracking the symptoms, what the treatments are, and what the causes are. Dr. Martine Lamy from Cincinnati Children’s Hospital explains her work looking at genetic causes in those with catatonia and neurodevelopmental disorders. It’s important to do genetic testing on all individuals who present with catatonia because this information led to better treatments in some people. Identifying a genetic cause of not just catatonia but also neurodevelopmental disorders like ASD gives families a community but also allows them to identify more targeted interventions.
The words “syndromic autism” have been used to describe individuals with autism who also have a rare genetic mutation. Is it time to change those words to something else? In this week’s podcast episode, cientists and clinicians Drs. Jacob Vorstman and Steve Scherer from the University of Toronto share recent data in understanding autism, the role of genetic testing in autism in predicting and treating other conditions that someone with autism may have, and why the words “syndromic autism” may need to be updated to describe a subgroup of autism.
On this week’s podcast we talk to Sergiu Pasca from Stanford University. He has revolutionized the field of understanding the field of brain development in neurodevelopmental disorders and just published a new study which examined the genetic influence of brain assembly. The way he does this is quite remarkable. His lab uses assembloids, which are many many many stem cells which form into a tiny brain. He explains what an interneuron is, why it is important for brain function, and how genetics can influence how these neurons work. This way the development of the brain from the first cell can be tracked and even manipulated to understand what happens in autism, and what therapies might be the most helpful to target these interneurons. Thank you Dr. Pasca.
Open access! https://pubmed.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/37758944/
Everyone knows that every person with autism has their own unique strengths and challenges. Autism is heritable, and there are over 100 genes associated with autism. There are also an unknown number of environmental factors influencing outcome, so the heterogeneity is not necessarily surprising. But why would two people with the same genetic mutation have variable outcomes? Researchers led by the Institut Pasteur in France looked at the range of outcomes in people with a rare genetic mutation associated with autism, focusing on those without an autism diagnosis. This week’s podcast is an interview with the lead author of the paper, Thomas Rolland, PhD from France. The presence of the variants in those without ASD were associated with lowered cognitive ability, education level and employment status. The bottom line of these finds are that genes affect proteins which form the brain and control brain function. However, there are multiple factors that influence outcome. Some of them may be sex or gender, prenatal exposures. It’s not just one thing, there are many things influencing an autism diagnosis.
In recognition of September 26th, this week’s podcast episode explores one of the more dangerous issues in autism: wandering. But it’s really not wandering in the traditional sense. Wandering in autism mostly means running off, bolting, deliberately with intent and without permission. Obviously this leads to some very dangerous situations for people on the spectrum. How can it be mitigated or understood? Some behavioral therapies are helpful, but new technologies have allowed for more options to bring back loved ones that have run off unexpectedly. Finally, the community needs to be better aware of possible stressors or triggers that trigger a wandering episode and work together with families to prevent running off. This problem is not caused by one thing, and the community needs multiple solutions to keep kids and adults safe.
Can biomarkers that measure things like visual social attention be a good proxy for an in person behavioral diagnosis? Why would this be important? This week’s podcast explores two new studies the the Journal of the American Medical Association that show a simple device called EarliPoint can be used to shorten the wait times to receive a diagnostic evaluation. Currently autism can be diagnosed at 18 months but most families do not get into an appointment until 4-5 years of age. That can change. Families were able to easily complete it, it predicted things like not just a diagnosis but behavioral features and cognitive ability. It’s been deployed in 6 speciality centers, been approved by the FDA, and hopefully coming to a clinic near you soon.
Everyone needed support during the pandemic, but families affected by autism needed special support. This included siblings. Researchers at Massachusetts General Hospital tried out an intervention around stress and anxiety reduction in siblings in 2020. Not only was it liked, it worked. It didn’t completely eliminate stress and anxiety, nothing would, but it did help siblings manage a little better. Can it work outside the pandemic? There are certainly other situations where siblings could use a little more support – listen to this week’s podcast to learn more.
In a highly discussed paper, researchers from Drexel University report their findings on a scientific and methodologically rigorous study on the accuracy of information posted on the social media platform Tik-Tok. They also discuss where the information comes from and how it is viewed. The accurate and inaccurate posts get “liked” equally, meaning they are taken just as seriously. There are billions of inaccurate posts being viewed, and misinformation spread. On this week’s podcast, all four authors of this paper summarize what they found and what families should know.
This week’s podcast covers two new papers of interest to the autism community. First, another study showing increase in self harm and suicide in those with autism – no new news there – but a new discovery this week showed a vulnerability of females with a diagnosis. The study also explores the lower rate of suicide in those with IDD but higher rate of self harm in this same group. Second, the mystery of autism genetics is slowly unveiled. Why is rare variation so influential in an autism diagnosis? As it turns out those with rare variation also have common variation, piling on the genetic liability in this group. Common variation is also uniquely linked to language delay in autism, so is this a core feature? Links below are the scientific articles as well as resources to support those dealing with mental health problems in the autistic community.
Mental health links:
On this week’s ASF podcast: there are dozens of good reasons why scientists need to study the brains of people with autism. One is to understand what happens in the brain as people with autism get older and see how the brain changes over time. Another is to identify mechanisms of autism to help all neuroscientists figure out how the brain works. A third is improve medicine by determining what helps what people at what age. Scientists @UCDavis, @Penn and @UCLA examined the individual brain cells of people with autism to address these three questions, revealing that the autistic brain shows some similarities to brains of people with Alzheimer’s Disease. In addition, inflammation seen in the brain may be caused by too much activity of cells talking to each other. Studying the brains of people with autism is essential to better understanding and is made possible by families who are committed to research.