31 posts · 33,580 views
A couple of weeks ago, I posted on a paper by Mandy and colleagues, which aimed to better characterise kids meeting current (DSM IV-TR) criteria for PDD-NOS (Pervasive Developmental Disorder Not Otherwise Specified). Their conclusion was that most of these kids had social and communication difficulties but not the repetitive and stereotyped behaviours (RSBs) that would have given them a full 'autistic disorder' diagnosis.Under proposed revisions to diagnostic criteria (DSM 5), PDD-NOS is suppose........ Read more »
Happé F. (2011) Criteria, Categories, and Continua: Autism and Related Disorders in DSM-5. Journal of the American Academy of Child and Adolescent Psychiatry, 50(6), 540-2. PMID: 21621137
Evidence and Artifacts: 1 in 110A few years ago, before I got into autism research, I worked on a couple of projects looking at Down syndrome and Williams syndrome. Down syndrome, I assume, is familiar to most readers. Williams syndrome is much rarer and less well known, but is of considerable interest to researchers, not least because the extremely sociable personalities of many people with Williams syndrome provide an interesting (although complex) contrast with autism.What these two syndromes........ Read more »
Aldridge K, George ID, Cole KK, Austin JR, Takahashi TN, Duan Y, & Miles JH. (2011) Facial phenotypes in subgroups of pre-pubertal boys with autism spectrum disorders are correlated with clinical phenotypes. Molecular autism, 2(1), 15. PMID: 21999758
I'm famous. Well, sort of. Earlier this week, one of my colleagues sent me a link to a YouTube video in which chiropractic doctor David Sullivan discusses one of my papers on autism and how it influences his "evidence based practice". It's a classic of its genre. The video starts off with a spinning brain and funky science-o-mercial music. And Sullivan somehow manages to equate autism with a dodgy dial-up internet connection whilst weaving our hypothesis in with Einstein and the space-time........ Read more »
Brock J, Brown CC, Boucher J, & Rippon G. (2002) The temporal binding deficit hypothesis of autism. Development and psychopathology, 14(2), 209-24. PMID: 12030688
It’s widely believed that early intervention is crucial for long-term prognosis in autism and that the earlier the intervention begins the better. Getting in early, of course, requires that autistic children are identified at a young age. But even for more severe forms of autism, children are rarely diagnosed before three to four years of age. With this in mind, the American Academy of Pediatrics has recommended screening all toddlers for autism.However, writing in next July’s issue of Pedia........ Read more »
Barbaro, J., & Dissanayake, C. (2010) Prospective Identification of Autism Spectrum Disorders in Infancy and Toddlerhood Using Developmental Surveillance: The Social Attention and Communication Study. Journal of Developmental , 31(5), 376-385. DOI: 10.1097/DBP.0b013e3181df7f3c
Al-Qabandi M, Gorter JW, & Rosenbaum P. (2011) Early Autism Detection: Are We Ready for Routine Screening?. Pediatrics. PMID: 21669896
Humans, as we all know, have five senses. Hearing, vision, touch, smell, and taste. Although they're all processed in different parts of the brain initially (that would be the auditory cortex, the visual cortex, the somatosensory cortex, the olfactory cortex, and the gustatory cortex respectively), our senses interact to give us a unified perceptual experience. This 'cross-modal' or 'multi-sensory' interaction is nicely illustrated by various perceptual illusions. For example, if we see........ Read more »
Russo, N., Foxe, J. J., Brandwein, A. B., Altschuler, T., Gomes, H. and Molholm, S. (2010) Multisensory processing in children with autism: high-density electrical mapping of auditory–somatosensory integration . Autism Research. info:/DOI: 10.1002/aur.152
In her classic book, Autism: Explaining the Enigma, Uta Frith coined the term 'weak central coherence' to describe the tendency of people with autism to focus on details at the expense of pulling together different sources of information and seeing the big picture. Frith described this as the "red thread" running through many of the symptoms of autism, including both the difficulties with social interaction and the strengths in attention to detail.
Frith argued that the ability to pull togeth........ Read more »
Jon Brock, Courtenay Frazier Norbury, Shiri Einav, & Kate Nation. (2008) Do individuals with autism process words in context? Evidence from language-mediated eye-movements. Cognition. DOI: 10.1016/j.cognition.2008.06.007
“You made a circle”, exclaimed Ethan proudly as he looked up from his drawing. “You did make a circle”, his mum acknowledged, ignoring the fact that, not for the first time, Ethan had reversed the pronoun, saying “you” when he should have said “I”. Ethan was one of six children from Providence, Rhode Island taking part in a study of child language development. Every couple of weeks, a researcher from Brown University would visit him and his mum at home, record, and then transcrib........ Read more »
Evans KE, & Demuth K. (2011) Individual differences in pronoun reversal: Evidence from two longitudinal case studies. Journal of Child Language, 1-30. PMID: 21669013
A couple of weeks ago I travelled from Sydney to a conference taking place in San Diego, California. There isn't a direct flight to San Diego so instead I had to fly via Los Angeles. Colleagues coming from Melbourne had an even more convoluted journey - they had to get a connecting flight to Sydney first before they could fly to LA. The point here is that airline routes are determined by economic pressures. There simply aren't enough people wanting to travel from Sydney or Melbourne to San Dieg........ Read more »
Pablo Barttfeld, Bruno Wicker, Sebastián Cukier, Silvana Navarta, Sergio Lew, & Mariano Sigman. (2010) A big-world network in ASD: Dynamical connectivity analysis reflects a deficit in long-range connections and an excess of short-range connections. Neuropsychologia. arXiv: 1007.5471v1
Autism researchers are control freaks. A large part of what we do is concerned with ruling out alternative explanations for our results, which involves designing carefully controlled experiments. Autism is a pervasive developmental disorder, meaning that it affects just about every aspect of cognition (and apparently most parts of the brain). So there are always plenty of alternative explanations to worry about. And attempting to publish your research involves running the gauntlet of reviewers, ........ Read more »
Lind, S., & Bowler, D. (2010) Impaired Performance on See-Know Tasks Amongst Children with Autism: Evidence of Specific Difficulties with Theory of Mind or Domain-General Task Factors?. Journal of Autism and Developmental Disorders, 40(4), 479-484. DOI: 10.1007/s10803-009-0889-y
Are people with autism susceptible to magical illusions? There are a number of reasons to suspect that they might not be.Firstly, magicians rely on misdirection. They'll use eye gaze and gesture to make sure the audience is looking one way, while they're secretly switching the cards or sneaking an elephant into a hat (or whatever it is they do). People with autism, it's argued, are less sensitive to these kinds of social cues, so perhaps they're not as easily misdirected.Second, as mentioned in........ Read more »
Studies looking at potential environmental and genetic causes of autism are pretty much always correlational. They may identify risk factors, but they can only ever show that people exposed to a particular risk factor are more likely to have autism. They don’t show whether it actually causes autism. Eating ice cream is a risk factor for getting sunburnt, but (unless you get your ice cream and your sunscreen mixed up) there’s no sense in which ice cream causes sunburn. Even if we are confiden........ Read more »
Gandal MJ, Edgar JC, Ehrlichman RS, Mehta M, Roberts TP, & Siegel SJ. (2010) Validating γ oscillations and delayed auditory responses as translational biomarkers of autism. Biological psychiatry, 68(12), 1100-6. PMID: 21130222
It should go without saying that brothers and sisters play an important role in a child's cognitive development. This is particularly true when it comes to the development of social skills. For young children especially, the family is their social environment and the main opportunity to learn about other people and what makes them tick.Guess which one is me...Research conducted in the past 15 years or so has consistently shown that children with siblings of a similar age tend to pass tests of "t........ Read more »
O'Brien K, Slaughter V, & Peterson CC. (2011) Sibling influences on theory of mind development for children with ASD. Journal of child psychology and psychiatry, and allied disciplines. PMID: 21418062
Autism is a genetic disorder. We've known this ever since the 1970s when studies by Susan Folstein and Michael Rutter showed that identical twins (who share the same random mix of genes from their parents) are much more likely to both be autistic than fraternal (non-identical) twins, who each have a different random mix of genes. These findings were incredibly important and fundamentally changed the way people think about autism. But they didn't tell us which genes cause aut........ Read more »
Scott-Van Zeeland AA, Abrahams BS, Alvarez-Retuerto AI, Sonnenblick LI, Rudie JD, Ghahremani D, Mumford JA, Poldrack RA, Dapretto M, Geschwind DH.... (2010) Altered Functional Connectivity in Frontal Lobe Circuits Is Associated with Variation in the Autism Risk Gene CNTNAP2. Science translational medicine, 2(56). PMID: 21048216
Some cases of autism are obvious. Anyone who knew anything about autism would agree that the child or adult in question was autistic. Other cases are less clear cut. Indeed, the term “autism spectrum” implies the existence of a continuum that fades gradually into what we think of as the “normal” population.Somewhere a line has to be drawn and where exactly we choose to draw that line in the sand defines what we mean by autism. It determines who is eligible to take part in autism-rel........ Read more »
Mandy W, Charman T, Gilmour J, & Skuse D. (2011) Toward specifying pervasive developmental disorder-not otherwise specified. Autism research : official journal of the International Society for Autism Research, 4(2), 121-31. PMID: 21298812
Something slightly unusual happened this week. In a paper in the journal Vision Research, Simon Baron-Cohen and colleagues reported that they had failed to find any statistically significant difference between the visual acuity of individuals with and without autism. The study was a follow-up to a 2009 paper that claimed to show enhanced (or "eagle-eyed") visual acuity in autism. Following two particularly damning commentaries by experts in vision science, the Baron-Cohen group got together with........ Read more »
Tavassoli T, Latham K, Bach M, Dakin SC, & Baron-Cohen S. (2011) Psychophysical measures of visual acuity in autism spectrum conditions. Vision research. PMID: 21704058
The advent of neuroimaging techniques such as magnetic resonance imaging (MRI) has revolutionized autism research. We can now look into the brain and see the "neural correlates" of autism. But, as with any form of correlation, identifying a neural correlate doesn't necessarily mean that we have identified a neural cause.
A case in point. Earlier this week I stumbled across a press release doing the rounds of the internet, proclaiming that "Brain imaging research reveals why autistic indiv........ Read more »
Mizuno A, Liu Y, Williams DL, Keller TA, Minshew NJ, & Just MA. (2011) The neural basis of deictic shifting in linguistic perspective-taking in high-functioning autism. Brain : a journal of neurology. PMID: 21733887
Having spent much of the past week struggling to make sense of my data, it’s good to come home, pour a glass of wine, put on some Sharon Jones, and, er… play with somebody else’s data!Recently, I’ve discovered DataThief - an application that allows you to scan in a graph from a paper and extract the data points. Sometimes, this provides insights that really aren’t obvious from the original paper.The other week, for example, I came across an intriguing neuroimaging study reported on the........ Read more »
Verhoeven, J., Rommel, N., Prodi, E., Leemans, A., Zink, I., Vandewalle, E., Noens, I., Wagemans, J., Steyaert, J., Boets, B.... (2011) Is There a Common Neuroanatomical Substrate of Language Deficit between Autism Spectrum Disorder and Specific Language Impairment?. Cerebral Cortex. DOI: 10.1093/cercor/bhr292
Another day, another autism diagnosis media storm. Last week, it was speech patterns. Before that it was urine. Today's story is that researchers in London have found a way to diagnose autism by performing multi-dimesional analyses of magnetic resonance imaging (MRI) brain scans.So what did they actually do? And how close really are we to being able to use brain scanning to diagnose autism?The studyChristine Ecker and her colleagues at the Institute of Psychiatry tested a group of 20 high functi........ Read more »
Ecker C, Marquand A, Mourão-Miranda J, Johnston P, Daly EM, Brammer MJ, Maltezos S, Murphy CM, Robertson D, Williams SC.... (2010) Describing the brain in autism in five dimensions--magnetic resonance imaging-assisted diagnosis of autism spectrum disorder using a multiparameter classification approach. The Journal of neuroscience : the official journal of the Society for Neuroscience, 30(32), 10612-23. PMID: 20702694
Until recently, research on perception in autism has focused primarily on the visual modality. However, there is now a growing body of research on auditory processing. Of particular note are two recent studies, both published in the journal Neuropsychologia, which report enhanced auditory discrimination abilities in a subgroup of individuals on the autism spectrum.The first of these studies was conducted by Catherine Jones and colleagues from the Institute of Education in London, who tested 72 a........ Read more »
Bonnel A, McAdams S, Smith B, Berthiaume C, Bertone A, Ciocca V, Burack JA, & Mottron L. (2010) Enhanced pure-tone pitch discrimination among persons with autism but not Asperger syndrome. Neuropsychologia, 48(9), 2465-75. PMID: 20433857
Jones CR, Happé F, Baird G, Simonoff E, Marsden AJ, Tregay J, Phillips RJ, Goswami U, Thomson JM, & Charman T. (2009) Auditory discrimination and auditory sensory behaviours in autism spectrum disorders. Neuropsychologia, 47(13), 2850-8. PMID: 19545576
Like most things in autism research, the idea that people with autism have big brains goes back to an observation in Leo Kanner’s original autism paper, where he noted that some of the kids in his group had larger than normal heads. Over the years, there have been dozens of studies looking directly or indirectly at the issue of brain size in autism. In 2005, Martha Herbert provided a comprehensive review [pdf] of 25 such studies, describing the tendency towards large brains as "the most re........ Read more »
Nordahl, C., Lange, N., Li, D., Barnett, L., Lee, A., Buonocore, M., Simon, T., Rogers, S., Ozonoff, S., & Amaral, D. (2011) Brain enlargement is associated with regression in preschool-age boys with autism spectrum disorders. Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences, 108(50), 20195-20200. DOI: 10.1073/pnas.1107560108
Redcay, E., & Courchesne, E. (2005) When Is the Brain Enlarged in Autism? A Meta-Analysis of All Brain Size Reports. Biological Psychiatry, 58(1), 1-9. DOI: 10.1016/j.biopsych.2005.03.026
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