Dramatic rise in autism prevalence parallels research explosion

Autism Speaks Chief Science Officer Geraldine Dawson, Ph.D. describes how the dramatic progress in autism research has paralleled increased recognition of autism's prevalence and financial impact in the December issue of the Archives of General Psychiatry published on line today. "This issue of the journal features three articles on autism," she writes in her editorial. "A decade ago, the journal published about the same number of autism articles per year."

Dr. Dawson also notes that, while the funding for has dramatically increased over the last decade, it hasn't kept pace with the increasing scale of the public health challenges posed by autism. Despite an increase in research and funding, "we have not yet fully described the causes of ASD or developed effective medical treatments for it," Dr. Dawson writes. "[This issue's] articles point to an urgent need for more autism funding. We especially need more research on prenatal and early postnatal in autism, with a focus on how genes and combine to increase risk for ASD." Dawson also noted that research on treatment and adults with autism have been neglected and more research on these topics is needed.

Research presented in this issue reports a three-fold increase in autism risk associated with exposure to high levels of traffic-related during pregnancy and the first year of life. The study's lead author, Heather Volk, Ph.D., M.P.H., is the recipient of an Autism Speaks research grant to study autism risk and gene-environment interactions involving air pollution.

Two studies in this issue involve novel neuroimaging approaches. One confirms an association between autism and changes in immune function. This study is the first to use new brain imaging techniques to demonstrate immune function changes in adults with autism. Specifically, it documented higher than normal levels of microglial activation in the brain in adults with . Microglial cells are the brain's first and primary immune defense. Another utilizes novel magnetic resonance imaging (MRI) data to examine the role of cortical volume in ASD, comparing young adult males on the spectrum to neurotypical control adults. The key finding is that differences in brain volume are determined by surface area, not cortical thickness, shedding light on mechanisms that might account for early brain overgrowth in individuals with ASD.

"More research is needed to develop strategies for preventing or reducing the disabling symptoms associated with this highly prevalent and costly neurodevelopmental disorder," Dr. Dawson concludes.

add to favorites email to friend print save as pdf

Related Stories

Brain imaging alone cannot diagnose autism

Nov 02, 2012

In a column appearing in the current issue of the journal Nature, McLean Hospital biostatistician Nicholas Lange, ScD, cautions against heralding the use of brain imaging scans to diagnose autism and urges greater focus ...

Recommended for you

'Integrated Play Groups' help children with autism

Oct 27, 2014

It's an often-agonizing challenge facing any parent of a child with autism: How can I help my son or daughter socialize with his or her typically developing peers? The solution, SF State's Pamela Wolfberg found, may lie in ...

Autism after high school

Oct 27, 2014

Melanie Tyner-Wilson is facing one of her toughest battles yet. She wants nothing more than to help her son Jay Tyner-Wilson, who is a person with autism, land his first real job.

Association between air toxics and childhood autism

Oct 22, 2014

Children with autism spectrum disorder (ASD) were more likely to have been exposed to higher levels of certain air toxics during their mothers' pregnancies and the first two years of life compared to children ...

User comments

Please sign in to add a comment. Registration is free, and takes less than a minute. Read more

Click here to reset your password.
Sign in to get notified via email when new comments are made.