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Autism News Roundup: New Risk Factor, Yelp for Autism, and Early Diagnoses

As we continue through the holidays of December on our way to the New Year, this week we’re going to take a look a trio of news stories involving the dangers of polycystic ovarian syndrome (PCOS), an initiative to build a Yelp-like website for families with members with autism, and the increase of early diagnoses.

First up, new research coming from Sweden is suggesting that a mother’s ovaries could hold clues to some autism causes, and not because of any genetic vulnerabilities in her eggs. A recent study that involved analyzing the Swedish national population health database, researchers sought to draw a connection between PCOS—an endocrine disorder that affects five to ten percent of women of childbearing age—and being at an increased risk for autism.

Analyzing data on 23,748 individuals with ASD and close to 209,000 unaffected individuals, all born in Sweden, the group of researchers found that ASD was fifty-nine percent more prevalent in children born to women with PCOS. To provide some context, this risk level is comparable to that of fathers over the age of 50 siring a child (which has a sixty-six percent increased chance of autism). By identifying the link between PCOS and ASD, the researchers help to identify ASD-prone children who might benefit from early interventions.

Next up, Knowledg@Wharton recently ran an interview with Topher Wurts who is attempting to help families of children with autism to better navigate the world by creating a website and app called Autism Village that will mirror the crowd sourced reviews of Yelp to allow parents to rate a place on its attentiveness to the symptoms of autism. Wurt, whose son was diagnosed with autism, found his life completely changed by the diagnosis while also feeling unprepared to raise his son in New York City.

A little over a year later and Wurt has created a working demo of both the site and app. The focus of both seeks to put aside bigger questions about a possible cure to autism or what the cause is to focus in on the day-to-day challenges every family with autism experiences.

As Wurt himself puts it, “It’s a ratings and review app like Yelp or like TripAdvisor, but specifically for the autism community. So, literally it’ll work anywhere in the world that people adopt it. And it would accept any input that people put in [for suggestions on activities, services and products] — whether it’s a playground, pizza shop with gluten-free pizza, movie theater that has showings where they don’t dim the lights and the sound levels are a little lower, restaurant with great wait staff or therapeutic stuff like schools or doctors or therapists or even just a playground that’s properly fenced, doesn’t have a pond or something. Anything can go in the app, and people can rate it and review it just like in Yelp or TripAdvisor.” We’ll be keeping an eye on this story as it develops.

Finally, following up on our recent post on how to spot the early sign of autism, a new study at the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention is reporting that more and more children are receiving screenings at a younger age. This is a move in the right direction according to the CDC as it’s a “critical time for individuals where they can learn some of these skills, particularly language skills,” say Julia Hood of the Carmen B. Pingree Autism Center of Learning. With screening becoming more common, the CDC is now trying to ensure that people know where and how to find quality treatment.