The topic of autism was prominent in the media headlines for 2012. Public awareness was one again heightened by news from the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) that more children than ever before are being diagnosed with autism spectrum disorders (ASD) and that that 1 in 88 eight year-old children has an ASD. The increase in occurrence of autism was also evident in the number of students with ASD receiving special educational services. Data collected for the US Department of Education indicated that the number of children ages 6 through 21 identified with autism served under the Individuals With Disabilities Act (IDEA) increased from 1.5 to 5.8 percent of all identified disabilities. Controversy also continued to surround the American Psychiatric Association’s recommendation and subsequent approval to include a new category of “autism spectrum disorder,” which subsumes the current diagnoses of autistic disorder (autism), Asperger’s disorder, childhood disintegrative disorder, and pervasive developmental disorder not otherwise specified (PDD-NOS). There was also an expansion of autism research and an increase in publications. While there were no dramatic “breakthroughs,” many of this year’s advances reflect broad progress in several areas of autism science. For example, there was new research regarding possible links between environmental exposures, genetic vulnerability and autism risk. There was also progress in the areas of genetics and behavioral therapies. This includes evidence that intensive early intervention can change autism’s underlying brain biology and new insights into the complexity of autism genetics.
According to Autism Speaks, the following represent the most important advances in autism research during 2012. Please note that the list is presented in no specific order (order does not imply relative importance).
Lee A. Wilkinson, PhD is the author of the award-winning book, A Best Practice Guide to Assessment and Intervention for Autism and Asperger Syndrome in Schools, published by Jessica Kingsley Publishers.