The latest research for #AutismAwareness

Monday, April 3, 2017

There are many types of autism; people with autism spectrum disorder can have challenges with social skills, speech and nonverbal communication, caused by a combination of factors, both genetic and environmental.

The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) estimates that one in 68 children (1 in 42 boys and 1 in 189 girls) in the US has been diagnosed with autism. Understanding the causes and characteristics of people’s conditions across the spectrum helps them face these challenges, from childhood through to adulthood.

Autism may not be immediately evident; people with autism can have a range of learning, thinking and problem-solving abilities, from being gifted to having serious problems. On World Autism Awareness Day April 2 – and throughout National Autism Awareness Month in April –organizations such as the Autism Society are working to draw attention to the condition and promote acceptance in a society that often has a poor understanding of what it means to be autistic.

To support this initiative, Elsevier has collated the most recent and popular research and review articles on autism from across Elsevier’s portfolio of psychology journals, exploring clinical, experimental and developmental aspects of autism. The collection is free to access until October 1, 2017.

Futuristic approaches to autism – including virtual reality

Armed with a diagnosis, people can better manage their autism – including using modern technology. One research group, from the University of Texas at Dallas and the University of Texas Southwestern Medical Center at Dallas, studied how children are using virtual reality to practice social skills.

The team assessed the result of five weeks of virtual reality social cognition training on 30 children ages 7 to 16. The result, published in Computers in Human Behavior, showed that virtual reality training can help improve performance across a range of social issues found in autism spectrum disorder, such as emotion recognition, attention and overall executive function.

It’s becoming increasingly important to continue to develop new treatments and understand the range of challenges associated with autism; the prevalence of autism is rising rapidly in the US, with a 119.4 percent increase between 2000 and 2010, according to the CDC. There is also a consensus that only 40-60 percent of cases can be attributed to genetics.

New discoveries, then, may require a completely new approach if they are to have a valuable impact. One of the biggest limitations is getting enough people involved: despite the increase in demand for knowledge, there is still a shortfall, especially when it comes to investigating the interplay between nature and nurture.

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