Brain tissue from individuals with autism is rare, to say the least: of the 30,000 samples in the National Institutes of Healthʼs Brain and Tissue Bank for Developmental Disorders, for instance, only 30 are from individuals diagnosed with autism.
From funding decisions to scientific fraud, a wide range of societal factors shape autism research.
Even as I type this, thousands of neuroscientists are descending on Washington D.C. for an annual event that is almost beyond description. An estimated 36,000 people are expected to attend Neuroscience 2008, this yearʼs meeting of the Society for Neuroscience, hobnob, listen to lectures, present posters and down drinks at the many social events.
Sitting on a sofa in his office at the Yale Child Study Center, Ami Klin plays a movie clip on a tiny laptop. The clip stars a younger Klin, with larger glasses but the same easy smile, vying for the attention of a young girl with autism. His face inches from hers, he speaks in a warm, animated voice. But the girl never looks from the toy blocks in her hands. Suddenly, she spots an orange M&M in the far corner of the room and scoots after it.
Itʼs not often that movies, books and plays represent science accurately, or with a true and empathetic understanding of its complexity.
Gray matter, that mysterious brain substance, is thought to control everything from motor function to mental acuity. In recent years several studies have suggested that an excess of gray matter during childhood is to blame for the symptoms of autism.