Autism and autism spectrum disorders (ASD) in the news

A round up of recent studies, stats and new insights into autism, from possible causes to earlier diagnosis and help for those living with autism.

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One of the biggest stories around autism spectrum disorders was news that the study linking the MMR jab with autism was false. In 2010, top medical journal The Lancet totally retracted the research paper that linked autism to MMR and deemed it to be fundamentally flawed. The man behind the research, Dr Wakefield, was also found to have acted “dishonestly and irresponsibly” by the General Medical Council. Earlier, in 2008, a new study found no link between MMR and autism.

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Diagnosing autism

In May 2011, a new study suggested a simple five-minute questionnaire could help diagnose autism in babies from 12 months, meaning treatment could start sooner and outcomes for babies and toddlers with autism could be improved.

In 2010, British scientists developed a brain scan, which looked at the shape of the brain, for detecting autism in 15 minutes. While further testing was still needed, it’s a promising step that could see treatment begin earlier, and early intense treatment can help reduce autism symptoms.

In 2010, a study suggested the early speech of autistic babies and toddlers was different to that of non-autistic children, and a special system was developed to pick up these differences. It’s hoped this technology could allow autism to be diagnosed sooner, and children referred for expert help faster.

In 2010, we reported on UK scientists developing a simple £5 urine test to find out if children had an autism spectrum disorder (ASD). The test could even be useful for babies as young as 6 months.

At the start of 2010, we reported on American researchers who believed they’d discovered how a brain scan could spot autism. The scan detects the slight delay children with autism spectrum disorders have in recognising sounds – we’re talking 11 milliseconds. The delay was found in 10 year olds, but if further research shows younger kids also have this delay, it could develop into a way to screen for autism.

In 2008, a study of babies with autistic older siblings began, managed by University of London. The aim was to see if there were patterns of early brain development that could predict whether they’d also develop autism.

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Autism’s secrets are slowly being uncovered by researchers

Understanding why autism occurs

In August 2011, a new study indicated a link between autism and siblings. It suggested parents with an autistic child had nearly a one in five chance of their next child also having the condition.

In mid-2011, a study of twins helped give researchers new clues. It seems environmental factors during pregnancy may play a role.

At the start of 2011, researchers suggested the gap between your pregnancies could have a role to play in autism. The study indicated with babies born very close together, the younger sibling might have a higher chance of having autism.

In late 2010, experts found children with autism were more likely to have jaundice at birth. The link? The researchers can’t yet explain it.

In mid 2010, the world’s largest genetic study into autism identified a link between the condition and DNA.

In early 2010, research indicated a mum-to-be’s age affected a child’s risk of having autism. The researchers, who looked at almost 5 million births, outlined the percentage the risk went up depending on the age of the mum.

In December 2009, untrue reports that autism was triggered by modern life emerged. We explain why the reports were not accurate.

In 2009, US scientists found evidence that genetics have a hand in autism.

Also in 2009, a separate study was being carried out to explore a potential link between a mum-to-be’s immune system and a child’s chance of having autism.

At the start of 2009, a study suggested babies exposed to high levels of testosterone in the womb might have a greater risk of autism.

In mid-2007, Cambridge University’s Autism Research Centre (ARC) suggested the number of children in Britain with autism is higher than previously thought. While the unpublished research estimated one in 58 UK children has autism, currently (2011) the NHS says the estimate is that one in 100 children in England have an ASD.

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Thomas the Tank Engine seems to help autistic children learn

Help for autistic children

A robot, named KASPAR, was designed by a UK university to help autistic children learn to communicate. In 2010, KASPAR and two robot mates went on display in London’s Science Museum.

In 2010, we reported on a US study that revealed just how many parents are trying complementary therapies and special diets to manage their child’s autism.

In 2007, a National Autistic Society survey found Thomas the Tank Engine helped autistic children learn, and that children with autism liked Thomas for more years than their siblings without autism.

In 2007, results from a UK study suggested home tutoring could help autistic toddlers. The study showed early intensive behavioural intervention (EIBI) could boost toddlers’ IQ, improve their motor and social skills and see them have better language and daily living skills than tots who didn’t get the intensive one-to-one tutoring.

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A change in food routine can be upsetting for a child with autism

More autism info, advice and help

We have more info and advice for parents of children with an autism spectrum disorder:

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If your toddler or child hasn’t be diagnosed with autism, but you’re concerned they may have an ASD, our guide Is your child autistic? is the place to start

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