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Autism Research Round-Up: Wrong Diagnoses, Late Diagnoses, and the Power of Search Engines

Looking back at the week in autism-related research, two different studies popped up that look at two separate problems in the existing autism diagnosis process while a team of scientists is looking to see if a search engine can help them to better understand autism.

First up, a new report from the Center for Health Statistics is calling into question the increased frequency by which children are currently diagnosed with autism. Specifically speaking, in looking at the number of children diagnosed with autism, the team found that approximately thirteen percent of children who were diagnosed with autism later lost their diagnosis after subsequent tests.

Over the past several years, the rate of autism diagnoses has grown from 1 in 88 in 2012 to currently 1 in 68. Accordingly, these diagnosis reversals are causing a lot of scientists to reconsider the process by which children are diagnosed. For instance, the researchers involved in this study argue that some children who are diagnosed with autism are actually struggling with other issues, such as developmental delays or attention issues.

Another report that recently came out is taking a hard look at the differences that occur between diagnoses in African-American children and Caucasian children. According to the CDC, while most children are diagnosed around the age of four, African-American children are typically being diagnosed up to twenty-four months later.

And as advocates are quick to point out, these two years can make a critical difference as children who are diagnosed earlier, especially within the first two to four years, stand a better chance at learning to live with the symptoms of autism. In addition, the CDC also reported that both African-American and Hispanic children are referred to a specialist at a much lesser rate.

Ultimately, this disparity in diagnosis is something that requires much more research as apart from an ongoing five-year UCLA study looking specifically at autism in African-Americans, the vast majority of research is conducted using Caucasian children.

Finally, moving past better understanding diagnoses of autism and into the world of better understanding the causes of autism, a new collaboration between Autism Speaks and Google is aiming to use the powerful search engine to find new answers and insight into autism. Specifically, the project, known as MSSNG, is seeking to map the DNA of 10,000 people affected by autism and then make that data readily available to scientists and concerned family members alike.

According to Rob Ring, who is a member of the MSSNG team,Our central thesis, if you will, around MSSNG was, the more eyes we can get on a data set like that, the greater the probability that discoveries are going to be made, discoveries that have the potential to transform how we think about autism, how we diagnose it, and ultimately how we treat it.”

With a $50 million contribution from Autism Speaks, the resources of Google, and the help of the Hospital for Sick Children, experts are expecting this project to result in some truly groundbreaking discoveries.