Reflecting on the last ten years of autism research, we can appreciate and proudly recognize how much progress we have seen. Researchers, scientists, and autism experts know much more today than we did a decade ago. Best of all, our understanding constantly evolves as discoveries and innovations happen daily.
The mission of autism research over the last ten years has focused on improving our comprehension of this complex condition, the diagnostic process, and treatment options offered to the families affected. Scientists, autism specialists, and hundreds of millions of dollars in autism research have produced relevant, high-quality output, insights, and revelations that have profoundly and positively changed the lives of many in this often misunderstood, underrecognized population.
Today, we are far more informed about autism spectrum disorder (ASD) and how it affects individuals. This knowledge has enabled us to make progress in creating effective treatment options and promoting suitable screening and diagnostic services. In 2023, therapies and medications can target core characteristics of autism that limit independence, like language acquisition or behavior. In the past, these characteristics led many to live in residential treatment centers or institutions.
Scientifically validated approaches like ABA therapy and other modalities make life easier for those on the spectrum. While no cure exists, today, many on the spectrum go on to live vibrant lives, graduate with Ivy League degrees, and win noble peace prizes. Many find strength in their neurodiversity and make meaningful developmental gains with treatment.
Additionally, autism awareness campaigns have promoted greater understanding and acceptance, which helps to reduce prejudice and disempowering stigmas. Minimizing these negative associations encourages the spread of more factual information that leads families to seek essential services that make a vast difference.
However, there is still more autism research to conduct! As scientific advances continue over the next decade and beyond, we can look forward to expanding our understanding of this condition, hoping it will result in enhanced quality of life for all affected by ASD.
This blog will explore essential autism research conducted over the last ten years. Including every finding in autism research over the previous ten years would be overwhelming, as science has furthered our understanding tremendously. However, these critical findings have led us to the wisdom and ASD awareness we have today.
1970s science recognized that autism is highly heritable, theorizing that inherited genetic factors render a prominent role in the causation of the condition. In 2003 scientists gathered to take this understanding a step further and enhance our comprehension of the biology and mechanisms of ASD.
In response, research also began to focus on statistics between families. They concluded identical twins have a 70-90% chance of both being on the spectrum, with fraternal twins having only a 31% likelihood and siblings having just 20%. These statistics became a significant clue that genetics contribute to the probability of autism. Findings later revealed that variants of genes and environmental factors also played a role in the development and severity of ASD.
Gene Variants that Contribute to Autism
In the last ten years, researchers have learned more about gene expression and ASD as presented on the SPARK gene list. The SPARK gene list comprises genes, variants, and chromosomal variances associated with ASD. These new insights led scientists to recognize de novo variants in genes. A de novo mutation is a genetic variation apparent for the first time in one family member. The variant is a result of a mutation in the sperm or egg of a parent. Additionally, the variant can present in the fertilized egg during the early stages of embryogenesis.
Strong de novo alterations occur in select genes, increasing the chances of autism by 20 to 50 times when compared with others who do not have the variant. This fact means that almost everyone with a specific genetic variant has autism. So, more generally speaking, these variations were not inherited from parents, yet could still lead to ASD.
While not frequent in the population, these mutations significantly increased the likelihood of autism, demonstrating genetic diversity can lead to autism. These findings proved to be invaluable tools for neurobiologists. While these variants don’t wholly explain autism, with this knowledge, we gain greater insight into the biology of autism and how the brain works.
Hypersensitivity and Tactile Touch
Over the last ten years of autism research, there have been significant breakthroughs in understanding tactile touch and hypersensitivity in people with ASD. Research has shown that touch is not just a physical sensation but a complex process that involves the brain, the nervous system, and social-emotional experiences.
Researchers discovered the significant role played by the central nervous system in producing anxiety and sensory overload, particularly in individuals who experience tactile hypersensitivity, which is common in individuals with ASD. Through studies conducted with mice, scientists were able to understand anxiety more deeply in the context of ASD, highlighting the need to consider the sensory aspect when designing therapies, interventions, and accommodations for individuals on the spectrum.
Potential solutions include special benzodiazepines that address tactile sensitivity without producing sedation commonly associated with benzo use, among other approaches. However, anxiety and autism remain continually researched and associated, as this is often a core element of autism that hinders life for many.
What Comes Next?
In summary, over the past ten years, researchers have made massive strides in learning more about autism, including its causes and potential treatments. We now recognize that genetics play a role in determining whether someone may develop autism and that environmental factors may also provide influence. This knowledge has enabled us to create better supports and treatments, like ABA therapy, while raising ASD awareness.
The next ten years of autism research will promise even more exciting realizations that could help shape the future for all people on the spectrum (and their families). With continued dedication and effort, we will be able to understand this complex condition better and find new ways to help those living with autism.
Here’s to the future of autism research!
ABA Centers of Florida Embraces Autism Research
ABA Centers of Florida recognizes the value quality autism research provides the neurodivergent community, which we proudly serve. We generously contribute and fund research that produces gains in understanding autism in new ways. We know that every family touched by ASD is affected uniquely. Fortunately, years of research and expertise have refined our ability to help clients on the spectrum (and their families) navigate any challenges they may experience with ABA therapy.