Podcast: Attention attention…this is the INSAR 2023 summary

Last week in Stockholm, Sweden, 2200 researchers and scientists working to understand and help those on the spectrum, met to share their most recent findings and exchange ideas. What were the main takeaways as ASF saw them? In our latest podcast episode, we cover why some autistic people don’t want genetics to be studied, how to better engage families with IDD and who are non-speaking, females, adults, international studies and yes, diversity. The program book was released a day before the meeting and can be found here: https://cdn.ymaws.com/www.autism-insar.org/resource/resmgr/docs/annualmeeting/insar2023_program_book.pdf

Literature examining emotional regulation in infants with autism spectrum disorder (ASD) has focused on parent report. We examined behavioral and physiological responses during an emotion-evoking task designed to elicit emotional states in infants. Infants at an increased likelihood for ASD (IL; have an older sibling with ASD; 96 not classified; 29 classified with ASD at age two) and low likelihood (LL; no family history of ASD; n = 61) completed the task at 6, 12, and 18 months. The main findings were (1) the IL-ASD group displayed higher levels of negative affect during toy removal and negative tasks compared to the IL non-ASD and LL groups, respectively, (2) the IL-ASD group spent more time looking at the baseline task compared to the other two groups, and (3) the IL-ASD group showed a greater increase in heart rate from baseline during the toy removal and negative tasks compared to the LL group. These results suggest that IL children who are classified as ASD at 24 months show differences in affect, gaze, and heart rate during an emotion-evoking task, with potential implications for understanding mechanisms related to emerging ASD.

Keywords: ASD; affect; autism; baby sibling; gaze; heart rate; physiology.

On this week’s podcast, we conduct an interview with Michelle Hughes, PhD, epidemiologist with the CDC, who answers all of our questions about how many people have autism, how they are counted, what has changed since the last count and why the CDC are counting more kids than they were 10 years ago.

You can read more about her here: https://www.linkedin.com/in/michellemergler/

Here is a link to the 8 year old counting study: https://pubmed.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/36952288/

Here is the follow up to when they turned 16: https://pubmed.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/36849336/

What do anxiety, prevalence, ketamine, other neurodevelopmental disorders, siblings, genetics, brain imaging and the autistic researcher committee at INSAR all have in common? They were all topics at the last Day of Learning. You can hear a 20 minute summary of the talks on this week’s ASFpodcast.

The CDC released data from the Autism and Developmental Disabilities Monitoring Network (ADDM) on Thursday. In the past 2 years, the prevalence of autism has increased about 20%. Why? Are there more new cases or is diagnostic practices improving? For 20 years there has been fewer Black and Hispanic kids diagnosed. Is that still the case? Listen to this week’s #ASFpodcast to hear some early thoughts, the CDC will join us for an interview on April 20th:



TikTok is overtaking the internet and many are using this platform to learn about a variety of psychiatric illnesses and psychological problems. But how accurate are these videos in sharing medical information? Could they be causing things like tics? Do they influence individuals to self-diagnose and cause mis-diagnosis? There is a new phenomenon labeled “munchausen by internet”, and while some of the videos might be helpful in raising awareness, others are just spreading lies and causing psychiatric problems. In other words: be careful about TikTok. If a social media platform shares videos that tell you to eat laundry detergent, maybe you should not listen to everything they say. Listen to this week’s podcast here.



Screening for autism is meant to cast a broad net to gather those who show enough features to be included for a full diagnostic evaluation. The most common of these tools is the MCHAT – the Modified Checklist for Autism in Toddlers. An author of the MCHAT, Diana Robins, and a colleague, Andrea Wieckowski and others gathered over 50 studies (English and other languages) in different types of samples (high likelihood and low likelihood) to determine how the MCHAT was doing in terms of finding infants with autism as well as excluding those without autism. It also touched on how well primary care doctors were doing in administering this tool. If you want to see the MCHAT for yourself or take it for your child, there is a FREE website, click here: https://mchatscreen.com Listen to the podcast here.

To read the paper, click here: https://pubmed.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/36804771/

This week’s #ASFpodcast highlights a new study from Dr. Elizabeth Kaplan-Kahn, who is improving a measure of Quality of Life for autistic individuals who are minimally verbal or have cognitive disabilities. These individuals may have different outcomes as other autistics, but their responses are just as important. Dr. Kaplan-Kahn talks about what it means, how it is related to other outcomes collected, and what’s she’s doing to improve Quality of Life measures.

She is working to do this through scientific study! If you or a family member is non-speaking or cognitively disabled, and want to help with improving measures of Quality of Life, click here: https://redcap.link/pablid and listen to the podcast.

The media has just called another biological marker a “diagnostic test”, when in this case, it was always intended to be an aid, not a test itself. It involves using baby hair strands to look a variation in metabolism of certain chemical elements across time. Remarkably, it showed similar results in autistic children in Japan, the US and Sweden. It’s not ready to be used as a diagnostic test, so what is it supposed to do? Listen to an interview with the inventor and researcher, Dr. Manish Arora from The Icahn School of Medicine at Mt. Sinai School here.

The full article (open access) can be found here: https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC9740182/

Many of the existing tools to identify autism cost money or are not specific for ASD, and they are hidden behind paywalls and are hard to obtain. A group of scientists led by Tom Frazer at John Caroll University put together a 39 questionnaire called the Autism Symptoms Dimensions Questionnaire to be filled out by parents of children. It’s free and open source! But that’s just the first step. The media got the intent wrong, yet again.

It should not replace a full diagnosis. Autism is complex, and even those with genetic forms of autism show heterogeneity in symptoms. They each need comprehensive evaluations. But this is a good start. Listen to the podcast and check out the ASDQ here! It’s open source!

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