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Spectrum: Autism Research News

Most-viewed articles of 2012

by  /  20 December 2012

This article is more than five years old. Autism research - and science in general - is constantly evolving, so older articles may contain information or theories that have been reevaluated since their original publication date.

This is a list of the ten stories that most caught our readers’ attention this year. They run the gamut from scans of Temple Grandin’s brain to prenatal detection of autism-linked genetic variations and the challenges of diagnosing autism in girls.

1. Researchers reveal first brain study of Temple Grandin

Our most popular story this year was a report from the Society for Neuroscience annual meeting describing Temple Grandin’s brain. Arguably the most famous person with autism, Grandin is professor of animal sciences at Colorado State University. Her brain is of intense interest to scientists because she possesses some exceptional skills, including sharp visual acuity. Scanning her brain revealed some unusual features, such as a big difference in the size of the left and right ventricles, fluid-filled cavities in the brain. We feel compelled to point out, however, that it’s one brain, albeit a famous one, and the findings can’t be generalized.

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2. Researchers track down autism rates across the globe

This article on autism prevalence worldwide ran in 2011, but has been a long-running favorite on the site. We’re not surprised, given the persistent interest in estimates of prevalence even in the U.S., and the serious dearth of statistics from most other places in the world. We created the map by compiling results from a number of different studies.

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3. People with milder forms of autism struggle as adults

Few studies have looked at the welfare of adults with autism. The surprising study in this story found that people with high-functioning autism don’t do any better than those with more severe symptoms. The piece, published in 2011, has enjoyed particular popularity because of a link from a New York Times article on the struggles of one young man with autism to find a job.

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4. Leo Kanner’s 1943 paper on autism: Commentary by Gerald Fischbach

Child psychiatrist Leo Kanner first described autism almost 70 years ago. This classic paper review, written by SFARI director Gerald Fischbach, describes Kanner’s contributions to the field, including the foundational paper.

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5. Clinical research: Facial features can help diagnose autism

Scientists have long been hunting for a biomarker that can aid in diagnosing autism. This short piece describes how three distinct facial characteristics may help identify people with autism. The concept made some readers uncomfortable, as they objected to people with the disorder being judged by their appearance.

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6. Why fold Asperger syndrome into autism spectrum disorder in the DSM-5?

One of the most controversial stories of 2012 was the debate surrounding the proposed diagnostic guidelines for autism, due out in 2013. In particular, many people are up in arms that Asperger syndrome will no longer be considered a distinct disorder from autism. As a testament to the topic’s prominence this year, a 2011 Viewpoint from Francesca Happé remained popular on the site. Happé, a member of the working group that made the decision, says the group aimed “to do away with distinctions that are made idiosyncratically and unreliably across different diagnostic centers and clinicians.”

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7. Social motivation, reward and the roots of autism

Some studies suggest that the social deficits characteristic of autism arise because the brains of people with the disorder experience less of a reward in response to social interaction than others do. In this Viewpoint, Robert Schultz and his colleagues argue that lack of social motivation early in life is a driving force in autism’s development, and triggers subsequent symptoms. This article’s popularity is a reflection of the theory’s rising popularity.

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8. How do we measure autism severity?

Being able to accurately track the severity of symptoms in people with autism over time or in response to drugs is extremely important for developing treatments. But defining severity can be a challenge in of itself. Raphael Bernier explores this important question in his Viewpoint, and discusses the best ways to measure severity.

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9. More sensitive prenatal tests detect autism-linked variants

A report published 5 December in the New England Journal of Medicine found that chromosomal microarray testing during pregnancy is more sensitive at detecting genetic abnormalities than is karyotyping. Our March article on preliminary results from this study explored the the ethics of this hot-button issue and proved particularly popular.

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10. Diagnostic tests for autism may miss many girls

Boys with autism outnumber girls about four to one, but few studies have explored the differences in symptoms between boys and girls with the disorder. Hinting at the lack of attention to this issue, our 2011 article has remained on the most-viewed list. The article reports that autism is underdiagnosed in girls because existing tests miss their symptoms, and explores how diagnostic tests may need to be tailored for girls.

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TAGS:   autism