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Recent Research on Autism Spectrum Disorders

Many recent research studies have focused on finding the earliest signs of Autism Spectrum Disorders (ASD). These studies aim to help pediatricians diagnose kids at a younger age so they can get needed interventions as quickly as possible. 

One early sign of an Autism Spectrum Disorder may be increased head size or rapid head growth. Brain imaging studies have shown that abnormal brain development beginning in the child’s first months may have a role in Autism Spectrum Disorders. This theory proposes that genetic defects in growth factors (which direct proper brain development) cause the brain abnormalities seen in ASD. It's possible that the child’s sudden, rapid head growth may be an early warning signal, and this can help in early diagnosis and treatment or possible prevention of Autism Spectrum Disorders.

Current studies on Autism Spectrum Disorder treatment are exploring many approaches, such as:
  • New social interventions that can be used in the classroom or other everyday settings
  • An intervention moms and dads can follow to reduce and prevent Autism-related disability in kids at high risk for the disorder
  • A medication that may help improve functioning in kids with Fragile X syndrome
  • A computer-based training program designed to teach kids with Autism Spectrum Disorders how to create and respond to facial expressions appropriately

For more information about clinical trials on Autism Spectrum Disorders, see “Featured Studies” below.

The Interagency Autism Coordinating Committee is a Federal advisory committee that coordinates all efforts within the Department of Health and Human Services concerning Autism Spectrum Disorders. Through its inclusion of both Federal and public members, the Interagency Autism Coordinating Committee helps to ensure that a wide range of ideas and perspectives are represented and discussed in a public forum.

The Interagency Autism Coordinating Committee mission is to:
  • Facilitate the exchange of information on and coordination of Autism Spectrum Disorder activities among the member agencies and organizations
  • Increase public understanding of the member agencies' activities, programs, policies, and research by providing a public forum for discussions related to Autism Spectrum Disorder research and services
  • Provide advice to the Secretary of Health and Human Services regarding Federal activities related to Autism Spectrum Disorders

Interagency Autism Coordinating Committee meetings are open to the public and include presentations and discussions on a variety of topics (e.g., activities and projects of the Interagency Autism Coordinating Committee, recent advances in science and autism policy issues).

Featured Studies—

These studies include only those currently recruiting participants:

  1. A Study of the Association Between Autism and Immune Changes in the Brain.
    Evaluation study. Background: - People with autism and autism spectrum disorders have problems with communication, behavior, and socializing, and many also have intellectual and developmental disabilities. Ages 18-45. Location in Bethesda, MD.
  2. Assessing Suicide Risk in Adolescents With Developmental Delays.
    Evaluation study. Background: - Currently, there is no standard method to study suicide risk in youth with developmental delays or intellectual disabilities (DD/ID). Ages 12-21. Location in Toronto, Canada.
  3. Brain Imaging Study of Adults With Autism Spectrum Disorders.
    Interventional study. This research study investigates the effects of oxytocin and vasopressin on brain activity in adults with Autism Spectrum Disorders using functional magnetic resonance imaging (fMRI). Ages 18-40. Location in Bethesda, MD.
  4. Clinical and Immunological Investigations of Subtypes of Autism.
    Evaluation study. The purpose of this study is to learn more about autism and its subtypes. Ages 1 year-6. Location in Bethesda, MD.
  5. Cognitive Neuroscience of Autism Spectrum Disorders.
    Evaluation study. Background: - Autism spectrum disorders (Autism Spectrum Disorders) are a group of developmental disorders that affect communication, social interaction, and behavior. Ages 5-89. Location in Bethesda, MD.
  6. Comparing Parent-Implemented Interventions for Toddlers With Autism Spectrum Disorders.
    Interventional study. This study will compare the effectiveness of two parent-based programs for helping young kids at risk of autism. Ages 16 months-20 months. Locations in Tallahassee, FL; Ann Arbor, MI.
  7. Effectiveness of Atomoxetine in Treating ADHD Symptoms in Children and Adolescents With Autism.
    Interventional study. This study will evaluate the effectiveness of atomoxetine in treating kids with attention deficit hyperactivity disorder symptoms associated with autistic disorder, Asperger's syndrome, and pervasive developmental disorder, not otherwise specified. Ages 5-15. Location in Indianapolis, IN.
  8. Evaluating the Effectiveness of Aripiprazole and D-Cycloserine to Treat Symptoms Associated With Autism.
    Interventional study. This study will determine the effectiveness of aripiprazole and D-Cycloserine in treating symptoms associated with autism in kids. Ages 5-17. Location in Indianapolis, IN.
  9. Identification of Characteristics Associated With Symptom Remission in Autism.
    Evaluation study. Autism is defined as a lifelong pervasive developmental disability, as such, symptom recovery is considered rare. Ages 7-17. Location in Bethesda, MD.
  10. Long-Term Olanzapine Treatment in Children With Autism.
    Interventional study. This study will determine the short- and long-term safety and effectiveness of the drug olanzapine (Zyprexa®) for reducing symptoms of autism in kids. Ages 3-12. Location in Philadelphia, PA.
  11. Methylphenidate for Attention Deficit Hyperactivity Disorder and Autism in Children.
    Interventional study. This study will first examine the cognitive and behavioral differences in kids who have an autism spectrum disorder (Autism Spectrum Disorder) and who do and do not have additional symptoms of attention deficit hyperactivity disorder (ADHD). Ages 7-12. Location in Houston, TX.
  12. Screening for Studies on Autism Spectrum Disorders.
    Evaluation study. This study will screen kids and adolescents (and their parents) to determine the youngster's eligibility for participation in NIMH research studies on autism spectrum disorders, such as autism and Rett's Disorder. Ages up to 20. Location in Bethesda, MD.
  13. Study of Toddlers With Language Delay.
    Evaluation study. The purpose of this study is to learn more about risk factors for autism by studying the behavior and brain functioning of toddlers with early communication delays and typically developing toddlers. Ages 10 months-20 months. Location in Bethesda, MD.

==> The Aspergers Comprehensive Handbook 

The True Causes of Autism Spectrum Disorders

"What are the true causes of Autism Spectrum Disorders?  I hear so many different theories from so-called experts, which seem to muddy the waters rather than shed light on the topic. Also, are the rates of ASD increasing as rapidly as the 'experts' say they are?"

This is a very hot topic, because so many people have their own pet theory based on a limited amount of research and hear-say.

Studies measuring Autism Spectrum Disorders (ASD) prevalence (i.e., the number of kids affected by Autism Spectrum Disorders over a given time period) have reported varying results, depending on when and where the studies were conducted and how the studies defined Autism Spectrum Disorders.

In a 2009 government survey on Autism Spectrum Disorders prevalence, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) found that the rate of Autism Spectrum Disorders was higher than in past U.S. studies. Based on health and school records of 8-year-olds in 14 communities throughout the country, the CDC survey found that around 1 in 110 kids have an Autism Spectrum Disorder. However, more recent research suggests that the prevalence rates are much higher than 1 in 110. Males face about four to five time’s higher risk than females (although there is varying opinion of this statistic as well).

Researchers disagree about whether this shows a true increase in Autism Spectrum Disorders prevalence. Since the earlier studies were completed, guidelines for diagnosis have changed. Also, more moms and dads and pediatricians now know about Autism Spectrum Disorders, so they are more likely to take their kids to be diagnosed, and more pediatricians are able to properly diagnose Autism Spectrum Disorders. These and other changes may help explain some differences in prevalence numbers. Even so, the CDC report confirms other recent studies showing that more kids are being diagnosed with Autism Spectrum Disorders than ever before.

Scientists don't know the exact causes of Autism Spectrum Disorders, but studies suggest that both genes and environment play important roles:


In identical twins who share the exact same genetic code, if one has an Autism Spectrum Disorder, the other twin also has it in nearly 9 out of 10 instances. If one child has an Autism Spectrum Disorder, his/her other siblings have 35 times the normal risk of also developing the disorder. Researchers are starting to identify particular genes that may increase the risk for Autism Spectrum Disorders. Still, researchers have only had some success in finding exactly which genes are involved.

Most individuals who develop an Autism Spectrum Disorder have no reported family history of autism, suggesting that random, rare, and possibly many gene mutations are likely to affect an individual's risk. Any change to normal genetic information is called a “mutation.” Mutations can be inherited, but some come about for no reason. Mutations can be helpful, harmful, or have no effect at all.

Having increased genetic risk does not mean a youngster will definitely develop an Autism Spectrum Disorder. Many scientists are focusing on how various genes interact with each other and environmental factors to better understand how they increase the risk of this condition.


“Environment" refers to anything outside the body that can affect one’s health (e.g., the air we breathe, the water we drink and bathe in, the food we eat, the medicines we take, etc.). Environment also includes the child’s surroundings in the womb, when his/her mom's health directly affects growth and earliest development. Researchers are studying many environmental factors (e.g., family medical conditions, parental age and other demographic factors, exposure to toxins, complications during birth or pregnancy, etc.).

As with genes, it's likely that more than one environmental factor is involved in increasing risk for an Autism Spectrum Disorder. And, like genes, any one of these risk factors raises the risk by only a small amount. Most individuals who have been exposed to environmental risk factors do not develop an Autism Spectrum Disorder.

Scientists are studying how certain environmental factors may affect certain genes (e.g., turning them on or off, or increasing or decreasing their normal activity). This process is called “epigenetics” and is providing scientists with many new ways to study how disorders like Asperger’s and High-Functioning Autism develop and possibly change over time.


Doctors recommend that kids receive a number of vaccines early in life to protect against dangerous, infectious diseases (e.g., measles). Since doctors in the U.S. started giving these vaccines during regular checkups, the number of kids getting sick, becoming disabled, or dying from these diseases has dropped dramatically.

Young people in the U.S. receive several vaccines during their first 2 years of life (around the same age that Autism Spectrum Disorder symptoms often appear or become noticeable). A minority of moms and dads suspect that vaccines are somehow related to their youngster's disorder. Some may be concerned about these vaccines due to the unproven theory that Autism Spectrum Disorders may be caused by “thimerosal.” Thimerosal is a mercury-based chemical once added to some vaccines to help extend their shelf-life. However, except for some flu vaccines, no vaccine routinely given to preschool kids in the U.S. has contained thimerosal since 2001. Despite this change, the rate of kids diagnosed with Autism Spectrum Disorders has continued to rise.

Other moms and dads believe their youngster's disorder could be linked to vaccines designed to protect against more than one disease (e.g., the measles-mumps-rubella vaccine), which never contained thimerosal.

Many studies have been conducted to try to determine if vaccines are a possible cause of autism. As of 2010, none of the studies have been able to link autism and vaccines. Following extensive hearings, a special court of Federal judges ruled against several test cases that tried to prove that vaccines containing thimerosal, either by themselves or combined with the MMR vaccine, caused autism.

My child has been rejected by his peers, ridiculed and bullied !!!

Social rejection has devastating effects in many areas of functioning. Because the ASD child tends to internalize how others treat him, rejection damages self-esteem and often causes anxiety and depression. As the child feels worse about himself and becomes more anxious and depressed – he performs worse, socially and intellectually.

Click here to read the full article…

How to Prevent Meltdowns in Children on the Spectrum

Meltdowns are not a pretty sight. They are somewhat like overblown temper tantrums, but unlike tantrums, meltdowns can last anywhere from ten minutes to over an hour. When it starts, the Asperger's or HFA child is totally out-of-control. When it ends, both you and your child are totally exhausted. But... don’t breathe a sigh of relief yet. At the least provocation, for the remainder of that day -- and sometimes into the next - the meltdown can return in full force.

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Parenting Defiant Teens on the Spectrum

Although Aspergers [high-functioning autism] is at the milder end of the autism spectrum, the challenges parents face when disciplining a teenager on the spectrum are more difficult than they would be with an average teen. Complicated by defiant behavior, the teen is at risk for even greater difficulties on multiple levels – unless the parents’ disciplinary techniques are tailored to their child's special needs.

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Older Teens and Young Adult Children with ASD Still Living At Home

Your older teenager or young “adult child” isn’t sure what to do, and he is asking you for money every few days. How do you cut the purse strings and teach him to be independent? Parents of teens with ASD face many problems that other parents do not. Time is running out for teaching their adolescent how to become an independent adult. As one mother put it, "There's so little time, yet so much left to do."

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Parenting Children and Teens with High-Functioning Autism

Two traits often found in kids with High-Functioning Autism are “mind-blindness” (i.e., the inability to predict the beliefs and intentions of others) and “alexithymia” (i.e., the inability to identify and interpret emotional signals in others). These two traits reduce the youngster’s ability to empathize with peers. As a result, he or she may be perceived by adults and other children as selfish, insensitive and uncaring.

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to read the full article...

Highly Effective Research-Based Parenting Strategies for Children with Asperger's and HFA

Become an expert in helping your child cope with his or her “out-of-control” emotions, inability to make and keep friends, stress, anger, thinking errors, and resistance to change.

Click here for the full article...

My Aspergers Child - Syndicated Content