No matter which of the numerous genetic and environmental risk factors has caused autism, the part of the system that is always affected is most likely to be found at the cognitive level, argues Uta Frith, a leader in the field of cognitive neuroscience.
Spectrum: Autism Research News
Expert opinions on trends and controversies in autism research.
There does not appear to be a single genetic or environmental cause of autism, and given the heterogeneity of symptoms, coming up with a clear yes or no test for autism is challenging. Timothy Roberts argues that imaging and electrophysiology are key in the search for autism biomarkers.
In the new diagnostic manual for psychiatric disorders, Asperger syndrome will be folded into autism spectrum disorder. Francesca Happé, a member of the committee that made the recommendation, explains the rationale behind the decision.
Languages lacking words for feelings can lead to ‘mind-blindness,’ a feature of autism, according to a 2009 study. Cognitive neuroscientist Helen Tager-Flusberg argues that language delay only partially explains the theory of mind deficits seen in people with autism.
It took 50 years for scientists to develop instruments reliable enough to be considered the gold standards for diagnosing autism. Autism has always been around, but it was not until the mid-1940s that Leo Kanner in the United States and Hans Asperger in Austria, both physicians, independently described children with what we now recognize as autism.
Autism is caused by poor parenting, particularly by ‘frigid’ mothers who reject their children. Such a statement would seem bizarre today. But 30 years ago parents, especially mothers, were blamed for their childrenʼs autism. But then in 1977, one study, published in the Journal of Child Psychology and Psychiatry, single-handedly turned the field around to recognize the importance of genetics.
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