Autism researchers make exciting strides

December 12, 2011
Exciting strides in autism research are being made by Brooke Ingersoll, Michigan State University scholar, and other scientists. Credit: Michigan State University

Teaching young children with autism to imitate others may improve a broader range of social skills, according to a new study by a Michigan State University scholar.

The findings come at a pivotal time in autism research. In the past several years, researchers have begun to detect behaviors and symptoms of autism that could make earlier diagnosis and even intervention like this possible, said Brooke Ingersoll, MSU assistant professor of psychology.

"It's pretty exciting," Ingersoll said. "I think we, as a field, are getting a much better idea of what autism looks like in infants and toddlers than we did even five years ago."

In the current study, Ingersoll found that toddlers and preschoolers with autism who were taught imitation skills made more attempts to draw the examiner's attention to an object through and , a key area of deficit in autism.

Imitation is an important development skill that allows infants and young children to interact and learn from others. However, children with autism often show a lack of ability to imitate.

The study, which appears in the , analyzed children with autism who were 27 months to 47 months old.

The findings come on the heels of a paper Ingersoll published in the journal Current Directions in that highlighted recent findings in by U.S. scientists.

While autism is typically diagnosed between the ages of 2 and 3, new research is finding symptoms of autism disorders in children as young as 12 months, the paper found.

"I think there's a lot of hope that if we can figure out the right behaviors early enough, and intervene early enough, we may be able to prevent the development of autism," Ingersoll said.

Ingersoll also has received a $120,000 grant from Autism Speaks, a nonprofit advocacy organization, to study the effects of imitation training on with autism who are nonverbal, a highly understudied group of individuals. That study begins this month.

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not rated yet Dec 12, 2011
Given the vast amount of money spent on autism research--Nature recently reported $1 billion has been spent on genetics alone--the results are disappointing. We know effectively nothing about what causes it in the brain (no one can tell whether a brain comes from an individual with autism or not--all findings relate to group differences), our present understanding of its genetics has been hit in the face with the finding that it might not be so inherited as once thought (see Hallmayer et al "Genetic Heritability and Shared Environmental Factors Among Twin Pairs With Autism", Archives of General Psychiatry, NOV 2011), and research on treatments never get over the hype (as above). Autism Speaks might be better off putting their cash in the shredder...
5 / 5 (1) Dec 12, 2011
Gee, squirrel, what have you been reading? And what brand of scientific method do you subscribe to? With your attitude, we would still have smallpox and no antibiotics, and probably no running water.

Just last month I read here of a study that found differences in the mass of and number of neurons in the prefrontal cortex of autistic children (17% more, or something like that).

What I've read also indicates a growing consensus that autism is caused by a combination of genetic and environmental (in utero) factors. That makes sense since "autism" is basically an umbrella term for dozens of disorders, with similar or related symptoms but disparate causes. Which makes sense if you consider how complex the brain is.

Just like with cancer or heart disease, there is no one answer or silver bullet treatment, nor should there be any expectation of such.
not rated yet Dec 12, 2011
There is also growing evidence that lack of sufficient sunlight exposure (to generate vitamin D3 and other photo-derived genetic modulators) before and during pregnancy increases the risk of autism. Also, exposure to sufficient sunlight after birth, or oral D3, may reduce the severity of the malady.

With a 10 fold increase in reported autism in recent decades the Cosmetics Industry may have created this monster with the inclusion of SPF crap in virtually every topical product.

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