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Looking Back at Ten Years of Advances in Autism

As we’ve discussed in these pages before, Autism Speaks is one of the largest, most prominent, and leading autism science and advocacy organizations in the world. Since it was founded in 2005 by Bob and Suzanne Wright, grandparents of a child with autism, Autism Speaks has developed at a rise that is nothing short of meteoric, pairing offline awareness, fundraising, science, and advocacy efforts with a website that is an essential hub for any individual looking to learn more about autism.

In celebration of this amazing organization’s tenth anniversary, we’ve decided to take a look back and see exactly how our perceptions and understanding of autism have evolved and changed in the past decade.

First and foremost, while ten years ago the diagnosis rate for autism was found in 1 in 166 individuals, that number has increased more than twofold to 1 in 68 as therapists and scientists have developed more accurate screening tests.

Secondly, when autism screening switches from conducting a written test—which is the most prevalent method—to direct, person-to-person screening, the rate of diagnosis increases even further to 1 in 38 children diagnosed as found in an Autism Speaks study conducted in South Korea.

Finally, in terms of diagnosis, researchers and therapists are now able to diagnose autism in children as young as two years old and with earlier diagnoses comes earlier intervention, which can change underlying brain development and activity, not to mention an early diagnosis is far more cost effective than when autism is found later in a child’s life.

In terms of treatment, behavioral treatment has grown rapidly in popularity and effectiveness as studies have proven that it is a productive line of treatment and is now law in 38 state that individuals with autism have access to behavioral therapy if needed. Behavioral therapy and technological devices have proven especially effective in treating children with autism who are nonverbal, which now account for one-third of all children with autism. Furthermore, an Autism Speaks study even went so far to disprove the commonly held belief that nonverbal children with autism who don’t speak by age 5 will remain nonverbal for the rest of their live.

Other significant progress has been found in better understanding the relationship between autism and gastrointestinal issues (GI) as half of children with autism suffer from GI and researchers are currently developing treatments to help children overcome their GI issues.

In further news in terms of autism and how it effects the body, there is now evidence-based medical guidelines and tool kits to help parents improve the sleep of children with autism, which is a common symptom. Furthermore, it has been found that that as many as one-third of individuals with autism have epilepsy and thus it’s been confirmed that autism can affect the whole body through seizures, disturbed sleep, and painful GI disorders.

Finally, in terms of treatment, genetics and genome sequencing have dispelled the belief that autism is almost entirely hereditary as an Autism Speaks study found that non-inherited influences on early brain development account for nearly half of a child’s risk for developing autism.

While there is certainly much more to cover—and we will do so in next week’s edition—it’s still incredible to step back and just marvel at how much hard work and committed advocates have accomplished in helping the general public to better understand autism. Here’s looking forward to the next ten years of triumphs!