Recent Developments in Autism Research

Recent Developments in Autism Research

At a UCLA seminar I attended this month, I learned about new research findings in the field of Autism. The following are points taken from the presentation and slides from the October 23rd, 2016 seminar Autism Spectrum Disorder: Identification, Treatments and Current Research by Charlotte DiStefano Ph.D., researcher at UCLA Center for Autism Research and Treatment.


  • Per the CDC (2014), 1 in 68 children are identified as having Autism. This statistic is based on DSM-IV-TR criteria as there is no current DSM-5 prevalence study yet.
  • 1 in 5 children enrolled in special education have an Autism Diagnosis.
  • 4:1 Male to Female ratio
  • The majority of females identified as having ASD tend to be more severely impacted. And research suggests that this may be because females may have more protective factors, either in social skills or possible genetic loading, making it difficult to identify females with ASD


    • Autism rates are increasing as a result of better diagnostics, earlier identification, diagnostic substitution (diagnosing Autism rather than Intellectual Disability)
    • Studies suggest that there are also gene and environment interactions. Environmental factors include air pollution (Volk, 2010, 2013, Becerra, 2013, Kolkbrenner, 2015, Roz 2015), pesticides (Van Ehrenstein, 2014) close spacing of pregnancies, parental age (Durkin, 2008; paternal age being more a risk than maternal), and extreme premature birth


    • Autism is one of the most heritable neuropsychiatric disorders, at a 70% heritability rate
    • More than 30% of individuals with ASD have an identifiable genetic cause, but there are a lot, currently 826 identified genes, associated with ASD
    • Receiving genetic testing (specifically chromosomal microarray) is now the standard of care for all children with ASD or developmental disability
    • Research is now focusing on identifying specific homogeneous, etiology-based subgroups within the autism spectrum to ultimately form more targeted interventions

Clinical Related Concerns

    • Insomnia occurs in up to 80% of children with ASD. Therefore, clinicians and pediatricians working with children with an ASD diagnosis should always screen for insomnia. Furthermore, behavioral interventions for sleep should be attempted before prescription drugs
    • Children with ASD should be assessed for evidence of seizures and epilepsy (which is more than one unprovoked seizure in a lifetime)

Early Identification

      • Recognizing the early signs of autism can help children receive early intervention, which autism research show leads to better prognosis and outcomes
      • On the site, Autism Speaks, the author reports several red flags that parents can look out for in their children younger than two years and the lack of behaviors that their pediatricians should also be looking for. If you have these concerns, take your child to your pediatrician and advocate for your child.
      • The following flags to look out for include any loss of speech, babbling or social skills at any age, and no:
        • words by 16 months of age
        • big smiles by 6 months
        • babbling or communicative gestures by 12 months
        • back-and-forth sharing of sounds
        • smiles or other facial expression by 9 months, and/or
        • meaningful, two-word phrases (not including imitating or repeating) by 24 months

The American Academy of Pediatrics recommends that pediatricians refer children for a developmental evaluation should children show these red flags.

      • Take the free developmental screener, M-CHAT, online through the Autism Speaks website to assess for developmental concerns.



Contact us today to schedule your consultation with one of our psychologists to learn more about ways in which we can support your family, whether it be about autism research, treatments or evaluations.We serve families in San Diego North County, including Carlsbad, Encinitas, Rancho Santa Fe, Escondido and surrounding cities.

About Susan Gehrig, PhD

Susan Gehrig, Ph.D. is a clinical psychologist and founder of Paradox Psychological Services located in Carlsbad. She has a passion for supporting the wellbeing of children and teens. Her expertise is in child mindfulness and self-compassion, cognitive behavioral therapy, and child development. Dr. Gehrig provides psychoeducational testing and therapy services to help build a plan for success. Paradox provides services for families of San Diego North County and greater areas.

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