Research priorities; adult reading; prevalence update and more

The advocacy organization Autism Speaks releases its three-year strategic research plan, a new autism journal is slated for 2019, and updated U.S. developmental disability prevalence numbers are published.

By Emily Willingham
22 December 2017 | 4 min read
This article is more than five years old.
Neuroscience—and science in general—is constantly evolving, so older articles may contain information or theories that have been reevaluated since their original publication date.
  • Autism Speaks has released its three-year strategic plan for science, the advocacy group announced in a 13 December statement. The organization’s chief science officer, Thomas Frazier, called the plan a “living document” that will be updated based on feedback over time. The priorities it currently emphasizes were shaped by online survey responses from more than 6,000 members of the autism community.

    Those objectives include a focus on understanding autism’s causes, especially factors that “lead to many different types of autism.” The plan also mentions testing “promising treatments,” consensus-building between professionals and the autism community, and better screening and access to services for underserved communities.

  • Although the prevalence of developmental disabilities in the United States ticked up slightly from 2014 to 2016, autism prevalence remained unchanged. The U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention provided the updated prevalence information on children ages 3 to 17 in its 29 November data brief. The brief also notes that a greater percentage of boys (3.63 percent) than girls (1.25 percent) is diagnosed with autism.
  • Researchers tracking how children on the spectrum complete visual tasks confirm both increased neuronal activity and decreased filtering of external inputs. This doubly noisy setup leads to reduced efficiency in perception, the investigators reported 14 December in Scientific Reports. They found that internal noise — comprising signals from throughout the nervous system — in particular is linked to intensity of autism features.
  • A new autism research journal is set to launch in 2019. The journal, Autism in Adulthood, will focus on the “most pressing issues” that adults with autism face, according to a 15 December statement from the publisher, Mary Ann Liebert, Inc. Readers will get a preview in the form of a mini-issue to be published in 2018.
  • A pilot study of a positive-parenting program has yielded positive outcomes. Investigators report significant beneficial effects of the one-on-one, four-session program on parent stress, family function and intensity of behaviors viewed as disruptive. The researchers, publishing 14 December in Family Process, caution that the small sample size of 12 parents is a limitation of the study.

    The program, called Primary Care Triple P, focuses on one or two child behaviors that the parents identify as an issue. In the one-on-one meetings with a practitioner, parents learn to focus on ways to develop a positive relationship with their child.

    Parent participants had a few suggestions to improve the program, including follow-up meetings with the practitioner to talk about new issues, and inclusion of peer support. Practitioners, in turn, saw a “strong need” for better parent education about autism, faster referral to services and possibly home visits to help with implementation.

  • Who first described autism as a clinical entity? Austrians Leo Kanner and Hans Asperger usually get separate but top billing. But were the Dutch in the mix, too? A paper published 15 December in the Journal of the History of the Behavioral Sciences argues that Dutch researcher and nun Ida Frye described children with autism as early as the 1930s and used the term ‘autist’ in a 1937-1938 publication.

    Frye, also known as Sister Gaudia, was head of a Dutch institution for children, the Paedological Institute. In addition to being part of a team that published what were likely the first details about children with autism in the Netherlands, she had to deal with the sexism inherent in society and science at the time.

  • No researcher wants to be on this year-end list. The Scientist has published Retraction Watch’s collection of the top 10 retractions for 2017. From a journal that shattered the old record for most retractions on a single day — 107 papers — to successful faux-research “stings,” the 18 December list dishes on the embarrassing details.
  • Teenagers with autism tend to be less physically active than their typical peers, so researchers asked a group of them for insights on the issue. Reasons for avoiding physical activity vary, but in the survey, all involved perceived obstacles, such as difficulty adjusting to the social demands of a team sport. The researchers, publishing 13 December in the Journal of Autism and Developmental Disorders, suggest teaching teens on the spectrum strategies for managing these challenges.
  • Circumscribed interests” is a common phrase in autism diagnostics because it is a frequently seen feature of the condition. In an 18 December essay in The New York Times, a physician writing about his son’s interest in trucks tries to delineate when restricted interests are a “narrowing down of the child’s world, rather than a special portal into a larger and more fascinating sphere.”
  • Do you have a new paper coming out? Are you making a career move? Did you see a study or news story that you want to share? Send your news tips to [email protected].