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Spotted A roundup of autism papers and media mentions you may have missed.
News / Spotted

New health handbook; evidence imbalance; social motivation and more

by  /  22 June 2018

WEEK OF
June 18th

New health handbook

The World Health Organization rolled out its 11th edition of disease classifications, the “International Statistical Classification of Diseases and Related Health Problems,” on 18 June, adding conditions such as ‘gaming disorder’ to the roster. The codes associated with conditions in the manual are “the bedrock for health statistics,” the organization says, because “any injury or disease we encounter in life — and anything we might die of — is coded.”

Sources
World Health Organization / 18 Jun 2018

Coding disease and death

Evidence imbalance

Brain Balance Achievement Centers — a collection of 113 franchises across the United States — promises parents of children on the spectrum that “autism can become a thing of the past.” NPR took at a look at the evidence base underlying such claims and reported on 18 June that they found nothing credible.

The costs to a family can be considerable at the centers — $12,000 for six months of ‘treatment,’ which does not include assessments, supplements and blood tests that also are on offer. The founder of the franchise, Robert Melillo, is a chiropractor and is “acknowledged as an expert” in functional neurology, which NPR describes as “chiropractic’s controversial alternative to mainstream neurology.”

Social-motivation hypothesis

The social-motivation hypothesis of autism posits that people on the spectrum don’t find social stimuli rewarding. However, a meta-analysis of 13 functional magnetic resonance imaging studies points to a general difference in reward pathways in people with autism, whether a stimulus is social or not. The findings were published 13 June in JAMA Psychiatry.

Sources

Social-motivation counterpoint

It may be that some assumptions of the social-motivation hypothesis are incorrect. That’s the perspective of researchers Vikram Jaswal and Nameera Akhtar, writing 19 June in Behavioral and Brain Sciences. They offer alternative explanations for behaviors that typically have been construed as indicating low social interest, such as lack of eye contact. They also note that some people on the spectrum have “flatly contradicted” assertions that people with autism lack social interest.

Nazi invention claims

Was autism a Nazi invention? Science writer Seth Mnookin interprets “Asperger’s Children: The Origins of Autism in Nazi Vienna,” by Edith Sheffer as making that argument. In a review published 18 June in The New York Times, he calls Sheffer’s attempt to “destabilize” perceptions about autism by framing it as a Nazi conceptualization a “clumsy effort.”

Sources
The New York Times / 18 Jun 2018

Was autism a Nazi invention?

Depression risk

Children with autism have an increased risk of depression from ages 10 to 18 years. Being bullied and having social-communication impairments significantly contribute this risk, researchers reported 13 June in JAMA Psychiatry. The link extends to children who have features of autism but not an autism diagnosis.

Hidden health issues

People with autism are not comfortable disclosing mental-health concerns to healthcare professionals, new findings suggest. Most people on the spectrum also know little about where to turn for professional help, according to the study, based on information collected as part of the United Kingdom’s “Know your normal” campaign. Autism advocate Jack Welch, writing 15 June in BMJ Opinion, says the results confirm that access to services is “still a work in progress.”

Protein problems

Compared with their unaffected siblings, people with autism carry more spontaneous DNA changes that disrupt protein interactions. Researchers applied a new approach to comb through thousands of such changes, which involve a swap of a single DNA letter, and reported their findings 11 June in Nature Genetics.

Sequence synthesis

Researchers are nearing the ability to rapidly synthesize error-free DNA sequences, STAT reported 18 June. Two studies point the way. One, focusing on sequence synthesis for biotechnology applications, was published 18 June in Nature Biotechnology. The other addresses the use of DNA for information storage and is a preprint made available 16 June on bioRxiv.

Quick consent

The requirement for a person’s consent before sharing genomic information with others can interfere with data sharing among researchers. To make obtaining this consent easier, investigators have developed a handy consent form and educational video. They described their results on 13 June in Genetics in Medicine and have made the video and form available online.

News tips

Do you have a new paper coming out? Are you making a career move? Did you see a study or news story that you want to share? Send your news tips to news@spectrumnews.org.