One of the biggest challenges in studying autism is the condition’s heterogeneity. By definition, each person with autism has difficulties interacting and communicating with others and engages in repetitive and restricted behaviors. But the nature and severity of these features vary significantly. This diversity represents a major hurdle for developing treatments for individuals on the spectrum.
Most studies ignore this diversity and instead focus on what makes people with autism different from a ‘neurotypical’ control group. No single psychological or neurobiological feature has emerged that characterizes all people with autism1. Rather, there appear to be distinct subtypes of the condition that vary in their cognitive profile, underlying biology and prognosis.
This variability means that subgroups of people with autism may need different treatments. A certain treatment may be effective for a subtype of the condition, but clinical trials that include people of all subtypes may not pick up on its benefit.