Although we’re just three weeks into 2015, there has already been a number of significant news stories, studies, and research advances that show the year off to an extremely promising start in both our scientific and cultural understanding of autism. From an increasing understanding of how early signs of autism are missed to engineering advances that are helping to calm children with autism, here is a wrap-up of an extremely productive week in autism-related news.

  • A new study from Brigham Young University has found that parents might sometimes be best suited to recognize symptoms of autism in their children, with upwards of a third of psychologists surveyed in their study failing to recommend a referral. As we’ve reported before, the number of children believed to fall on the autism spectrum has increased from 1 in every 150 children in 2000 to 1 in 68 by 2010. As another recent study found, this increase in diagnoses in no way points to an actual increase in cases of autism, but rather that years of missed diagnosis may have artificially lowered the rate. Of course, while parents aren’t necessarily experts in observing autistic behavior, they do spend far more time and are able to observe behavior doctors might not be able to see. According to the study’s lead author Terisa Gabrielsen, they recommend that parents have a greater role in formal autism screening.

 

  • On a similar note, Gabrielsen’s study has also initiated a reassessment in the length of time pediatricians spend in a typical well-child visit as the typical ten-twenty minute sessions simply don’t cover enough ground to gain any substantial insight into whether a child might be exhibiting certain symptoms. According to Dr. Andrew Adesman, “In this study, the children with autism spectrum disorder were missed because they exhibited typical behavior much of the time during short video segments.” In the study, experts were found to miss 39% of the children with autism.

 

  • In other news, engineers in the Blue Valley are of Kansas city have recently came across a substantial way to help children with autism from the stress and anxiety as many such children experience considerable relief by being tightly hugged or squeezed. Engineering students at the  Center for Advanced Professional studies in turn worked together to develop a solution that would provide children with this relief even when their parents weren’t around. Using such items as a papasan chair, an inflatable air bag, a swimming pool noodle and a remote control air pump, they designed and built a device that not only provides deep pressure to calm the user, but is affordable and looks like a regular piece of furniture.

 

  • Finally, as early detection of autism continues to undergo significant advances, researchers at the University of Missouri have identified a set of facial measurements in children with autism that may provide significant help as a screening tool for young children in addition to providing clue to its genetic cause. According to associate professor of computer science Ye Duan, “We want to detect the specific facial traits of the face of a child with autism. Doing so much help us define the facial structures common to children with autism and potentially enable early screenings for the disorder.”

So while we still have eleven and a half months to go, there is doubt that 2015 is off to a strong start.