This Week in Autism Research: Motor Skills, Early Detection, and Vaccines

Three new studies about autism were released this week. One study looked at motor skills in autistic children, another used brain-imaging technology to map autism’s development, and another proved (again) that mercury in vaccines does not cause autism. Meanwhile, some pediatricians are asking non-vaccinating families to leave their practices.

Autism Affects Motor Skills

The Washington University School of Medicine in St. Louis published a study that shows that autism affects motor skills. While plenty of autistic adults, and parents of autistic children, could have told you that for free, this study was in fact the first to evaluate motor impairments in children with autism spectrum disorder and their siblings who don’t have the disorder.

“From our results, it looks like motor impairments may be part of the autism diagnosis, rather than a trait genetically carried in the family,” says lead author Claudia List Hilton, PhD, assistant professor in occupational therapy and an instructor in psychiatry. “That suggests that motor impairments are a core characteristic of the diagnosis.”

Motor impairments are not seen in all autistic people, however, and are currently not part of the proposed revisions to the autism diagnosis criteria in the Diagnostic and Statistical Manual Fifth Edition (DSM-V), due to come out in 2013.

 

Autism Apparent in Babies as Young as Six Months

The Carolina Center for Developmental Disabilities at University of North Carolina, Chapel Hill, released a study that shows that tell-tale signs of autism are apparent in babies as early as six months. Using brain-imaging technology, the study showed that autism does not develop suddenly during childhood, but develops gradually during infancy. The imaging also showed that autism is a whole-brain phenomenon, and not isolated to any particular areas of the brain.

 

For the Millionth Time, Mercury in Vaccine Does Not Cause Autism

A study in the U.K. proved (again) that mercury in vaccines does not cause autism. The study was co-authored by scientists from a number of organizations, including the University of York. The study showed that children with autism did not show signs of higher mercury accumulation than their neurotypical siblings, or as compared to a control group of children.

As science continues to disprove the purported vaccine-autism link, The Wall Street Journal is reporting that some doctors are “firing” patients who refuse vaccines. The American Academy of Pediatrics recommends that pediatricians discuss the issue with vaccine refusers repeatedly at office visits, but ultimately to respect the parents’ wishes. However, some doctors feel that having unvaccinated patients in their waiting room poses a danger to sick children or children too young to have been fully vaccinated yet.

(Photo Credit: Sura Nualpradid)

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