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Spectrum: Autism Research News

Community Newsletter: An evidence problem; cells’ interior design; repetitive movements

by  /  15 January 2023
Many mouths making conversation, with speech bubbles in red and blue.
Illustration by Laurène Boglio

Autism therapies have an evidence problem, according to an editorial published in Autism earlier this month.

“Frameworks for categorizing autism interventions as ‘Evidence-based Practices’ (EBPs) rely on research quality standards that are far too low,” tweeted Kristen Bottema-Beutel, associate professor of special education at Boston College in Massachusetts, about her editorial.

Interventions based on such low-quality evidence “might not provide any benefit, and might actually be harmful,” she continued in her thread. To avoid this, interventions “must be backed by studies w/ minimal risks of bias & adequate adverse event monitoring, & be produced by researchers w/out COIs.” Spectrum covered many of these issues in depth last year.

“Thank you for taking on this not-insignificant challenge,” tweeted Shannon Des Roches Rosa, senior editor of Thinking Person’s Guide to Autism, a nonprofit news site.

Elsewhere on Twitter, the Allen Institute posed a big question at the microscopic level: “What makes our cells healthy & what goes wrong in disease?” The answer, they assert in a study published earlier this month in Nature, may lie in how the cells are organized.

Researchers at the institute came up with a new way to measure cell-to-cell variability, including intracellular organization, and applied it to 202,847 3D images of live cells. As the institute put it, “Cell science is fundamental to understanding and finding cures to human disease.”

“Excited to see how this can inspire new cell scientists,” tweeted Omar Quintero-Carmona, associate professor of biology at University of Richmond in Virginia.

The project provides “an amazing, unprecedented view of the internal organization of 200,000 live human cells in 3D!” tweeted the biology department at the University of Washington in Seattle.

Another question to ponder this week: Do attention problems account for changes in autistic people’s repetitive movements over time? Julia Nauman, lab manager at the Michigan State University Autism Lab in East Lansing, explored this possibility in her new study of 2,568 autistic children, published in December 2022 in Research in Autism Spectrum Disorders.

The answer appears to be no. Although both motor and attention problems improve with age, “attention problems at intake did not predict later stereotypy,” Nauman tweeted. “Thus, other causal factors should be considered.”

Diondra Straiton, a graduate student in the lab, asked about next steps for the research. Nauman replied that she wants to continue investigating the relationship “and reported differences in attention, perception, and cognition in order to provide insight into developmental challenges associated with and indicated by motor stereotypy.”

That’s it for this week’s Community Newsletter! If you have any suggestions for interesting social posts you saw in the autism research sphere, feel free to send an email to [email protected].

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