Autism, which now afflicts more than 1 million children in the USA, is associated with a spectrum of disabilities, including repetitive behaviors and problems socializing and communicating.
The quest to unravel the mystery — and get children and families the help they need — has become more urgent as autism has become more widely diagnosed. The condition now affects one in 88 children, according to a report last month from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.
Yet researchers today also say they’re beginning to make progress, perhaps for the first time, in understanding the autistic brain. Thanks to children such as Nicky and babies far younger, scientists are getting a glimpse of what might go wrong in early brain development, says Sarah Paterson, a developmental psychologist at Children’s Hospital who works closely with the May family.
And while some of the field’s most exciting discoveries have come only in the past year or two, researchers such as Paterson say the findings could soon make a real difference for toddlers like Nicky. A decade from now, she expects doctors to diagnose the condition earlier and treat it more effectively, at least for children whose family history singles them out as high-risk.
Autism brain science “has moved stunningly fast,” says Kevin Pelphrey, an associate professor of child psychiatry at the Yale School of Medicine’s Child Study Center. “We’ve fundamentally moved around a corner where we will move much faster now.”
I’m less impressed with the ‘moving faster’ than I would be if they were ‘moving effectively’.