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Autism 2012: Fighting Towards Progress.

Submitted by on 01/03/2013 – 11:10 amNo Comment

Numbers, names, laws and breakthroughs: a lot has happened in the world of autism in 2012.  As awareness and research continue to grow, so does hope for a world that is better equipped to deal with autism.  This year our knowledge on the subject has increased in many areas.

According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) the estimate of the prevalence of autism spectrum disorders in the United States have increased by 23 percent.  Autism spectrum disorders are now believed to affect 1 in 88 children.  The CDC estimates that 1 in 54 boys are affected, and 1 in 252 girls are affected (Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, 2012).

There were also changes in diagnostic criteria this year.  The American Psychiatric Association (APA) announced that the upcoming revision of the Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders (DSM) would have significant changes in diagnostic criteria and nomenclature, throwing out the terms “Asperger’s” and “Pervasive Developmental Disorder – Not Otherwise Specified (PDD-NOS)” to only use an umbrella term, “autism spectrum disorder” (Huerta, Bishop, Duncan, et al., 2012). Researchers are in dispute about the impact of the revision on children on the spectrum.  Results from a study published by Huerta et al. (2012) were positive, suggesting that most children currently diagnosed with PDD-NOS will remain eligible for an autism spectrum disorder diagnosis.  However a different study by McPartland, Reichow and Volkmar (2012) indicates that many children on the spectrum could loose, or never initially get their diagnosis with these changes. The DSM-5 is scheduled for release in May 2013.

New York and California law took an important step forward and by including autism insurance benefits in the “essential health benefits” package as part of the federal health care reform.  Beginning in 2014, individual and small group health plans will be required to cover autism benefits.  Virginia law also saw some changes, with new Applied Behavioral Analysis (ABA) licensing rules.  When Virginia enacted autism insurance reform in 2011 it required ABA providers to obtain a state certification, although state certification did not exist.  In September, the Virginia Board of Medicine addressed this contradiction and completed emergency regulations for licensing ABA providers.  Unfortunately, it appears that New York will also experience this issue.  The Department of Financial Services published emergency regulations that would require ABA providers to have a state certification, which does not exist at this time (Autism Speaks, 2012).

Autism research was a hot topic this year.  Evidence for genetic links to autism were found as well as evidence for environmental links to autism, including traffic pollutants.  Researchers found evidence that early behavioral intervention and peer intervention are effective treatments for individuals with an autism spectrum disorder.  Researchers may have also found the first medicine to treat autism’s core symptoms.  Also this year an issue that hasn’t received much prior attention was addressed: the lives of people with autism after school age.

Four studies were published on the genomes of families of children with autism (Kong, Frigge, Masson et al. 2012; Sanders, Murtha, Gupta et al. 2012; O’Roak, Vives, Girirajan et al. 2012; & Neale, Kou, Liu et al. 2012).  The researchers found that hundreds of small genetic mutations may be a contributing factor in causing autism.  In two studies researchers found that children with older fathers were more likely to develop autism (Kong, Frigge, Masson et al. 2012 & O’Roak, Vives, Girirajan et al. 2012).

A number of studies have been published this year in which the authors have investigated the intersection between exposure to pollutants and the development of autism (Kalkbrenner, Braun, Durkin et al. 2012; Landrigan, Lambertini, & Birnbaum 2012; Mitchell, Woods, Chi et al. 2012; Shelton, Hertz-Picciotto, Pessah et al. 2012; Volk, Lurmann, Penfold et al. 2012; Wayman, Bose, Yang et al. 2012; & Wayman, Yang, Bose et al. 2012). Researchers in California found that children with autism were more likely to have a mother who experienced relatively high levels of air pollution caused by traffic than children whose mothers experienced lower levels of traffic-related air pollution (Volk et al. 2012).

Two thousand twelve was an exciting year for early behavioral intervention treatment.  In a nationwide study, researchers found that intensive early intervention therapy was effective for improving cognition and language skills in children with autism 18-30 months old.  There was evidence of an increase in social skills, a decrease in autism symptoms, and normalization of brain activity (Dawson, Jones, Merkle et al. 2012).

Early behavioral intervention treatment isn’t the only intervention that gained ground this year.  Kasari, Rotheram-Fuller, Locke and Gulsrud (2012) published a study in which they found that peer intervention significantly improved social connections for children with autism.  These benefits were still intact at a 3-month follow-up.

In a clinical trial of patients with fragile X syndrome and a mouse study, researchers found that arbaclofen could become the first medicine to treat autism’s core symptoms of impaired communication and social abilities and repetitive behaviors (Berry-Kravis, Hessl, Rathmell et al. 2012; & Henderson, Wijetunge, Kinoshita et al. 2012).   Autism Speaks awarded Delivering Scientific Innovation for Autism (DELSIA) $2 million to continue research of the drug (Autism Speaks, 2012).

Although there have been a lot of positive steps forward this year, unfortunately there has also been cause for concern.  This year in an article posted in Pediatrics, researchers took a look at life for people with autism after high school.  Startlingly, researchers found that only 34.7% of people with autism who participated in a survey had attended college, and 55.1% were employed (Shattuck, Carter, Narendorf et al. 2012).  Although this study is sobering, knowledge is the first step on the road to change.

Two thousand twelve has been a wonderful year of progress in many areas of the autism community.  If we continue to work together, we can keep positive progress going with treatments, research, and awareness.  Let’s march forward into 2013 and make it another memorable year.

By: Heather Rochford

Works Cited

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