Tuesday, October 31, 2017


Webinar - School districts using QIAT to improve assistive technology services

November 16, 2017, 11:00 am CST - 60-minutes

The Quality Indicators for Assistive Technology Services (QIAT) describe the characteristics of high-quality assistive technology services as they are provided in school settings. The eight service areas include: Consideration of AT Needs, Assessment of AT Needs, AT in the IEP, AT Implementation, Evaluation of Effectiveness of AT, AT in Transition, Administrative Support for AT, and AT Professional Development. For more than 15 years the indicators have been used in a variety of ways to assess assistive technology services and guide improvement efforts.

Session 2: How can the QIAT help school districts as they work to offer high quality assistive technology services aligned to federal, state and local mandates? How can QIAT be used as a tool for assistive technology service providers as they evaluate and work to continually improve their services? This session will address these questions and offer many examples of ways that QIAT has been used at a school-district level.

Find the archived webinar on this page.

Webinar - Customized Employment - Opening Doors for People on the Autism Spectrum

This webinar will provide an overview of the customized employment process including its utility in facilitating competitive, integrated employment outcomes for people with complex disabilities such as autism. Success stories and information about integration of customized employment strategies into vocational rehabilitation systems will be presented.

View the archived webinar here (takes a minute to load.)

Monday, October 30, 2017

Study claims vaccines-autism link; scientists find fake data, have rage stroke

A recent study linking a component of vaccines to signs of autism in mice is set for retraction after scientists thoroughly demolished the study’s design, methods, and analysis—and then, for good measure, spotted faked data.

Scientists had similar complaints about the researchers' new mouse study, which was published in the Journal of Inorganic Biochemistry. In a series of blogs and forum posts, scientists pointed out flaws and weaknesses throughout the study, including, but not limited to:
  • Injecting aluminum under the rodent’s skin, rather than into muscles, which is how vaccines are delivered
  • Using dosing regimens that make incorrect assumptions about the development of mice and do not mimic vaccine schedules in children
  • Studying genes based on outdated literature
  • Using an outdated and inaccurate method to assess gene activity
  • Using inappropriate statistical tests
  • “Clear and deliberate” removal of control data
  • Being funded by private foundations that question the safety of vaccines, which is noted in the study. (A report in 2015 noted that it had received nearly $900,000 in grants from the foundations).
An online journal club, PubPeer, hosted a discussion where scientists quickly spotted that data on gene activity (semi-quantitative RT-PCR results) and protein amounts (Western blots) had been manipulated, duplicated, and re-labeled.

Free Accessibility Courses from the University of Montana

Accessible Technology Services at the University of Montana is making accessibility courses available for free to Montana educators and government agencies. The one-hour course options include web accessibility and creating accessible PDFs, Word documents, and PowerPoint presentations, among others. Learn how to make accessible tests and presentations for your students!   Sign up here:

Another exciting free offering to educators is "The Accessibility MOOC: Inclusive Online Course Design."  This four-week class runs October 16th through November 10th, and is designed to teach instructors how to create more accessible online courses and content.  Register here:

Chuck E. Cheese's Unveils 'Sensory Sensitive Sundays' For Kids With Autism, Special Needs

This includes the Chuck E. Cheese in Billings

Chuck E. Cheese’s, the popular arcade and game center popular with kids across the world, is giving kids with autism and special needs a chance to enjoy all the fun and games.
The company has unveiled “Sensory Sensitive Sundays”, in which select locations open two hours early on the first Sunday of each month. During that time, the lighting is lowered while music and the show is either lowered or turned off.
There will also be limited appearances by the popular mascot, Chuck E., while food and games are offered as they would be during normal hours.

Source: Chuck E. Cheese's Unveils 'Sensory Sensitive Sundays' For Kids With Autism, Special Needs - NBC 6 South Florida 

Autism Insurance Mandates Boost Access To Care, Study Says

Kids with autism who live in states that require insurers to cover treatment for the developmental disorder are receiving significantly more services, researchers say.
Laws in 46 states and Washington, D.C. require private health insurers to pay for autism treatment. While the particulars of the mandates vary somewhat from state to state, a new study finds that having such laws in place makes a big difference for those on the spectrum.

Autism prevalence and socioeconomic status: What's the connection?

Children living in neighborhoods where incomes are low and fewer adults have bachelor's degrees are less likely to be diagnosed with autism spectrum disorder compared to kids from more affluent neighborhoods.
The finding is part of a new multi-institution study of autism spectrum disorder (ASD), led by Maureen Durkin of the University of Wisconsin-Madison's Waisman Center, and published recently in the American Journal of Public Health.

Autism: Research & Medical Treatment Implications - Webinar Series

Webcasts - view here at the Cleveland Clinic

Judy Van de Water, PhD
Estimated Time:   45 minutes
Release Date:   August 14, 2017
Expiration Date:  August 14, 2019
Type: Webcast
Specialties: Neurology, Pediatrics, Family Medicine, Gastroenterology, Pathology, Internal Medicine
Judy Van de Water, PhD
Estimated Time:   30 minutes
Release Date:   August 14, 2017
Expiration Date:  August 14, 2019
Type: Webcast
Specialties: Neurology, Pediatrics, Family Medicine, Gastroenterology, Pathology, Internal Medicine
Lauren Moskowitz, PhD
Estimated Time:   30 minutes
Release Date:   September 26, 2017
Expiration Date:  September 26, 2019
Type: Webcast
Specialties: Neurology, Pediatrics, Family Medicine, Gastroenterology, Pathology, Internal Medicine
Lauren Moskowitz, PhD
Estimated Time:   15 minutes
Release Date:   September 26, 2017
Expiration Date:  September 26, 2019
Type: Webcast
Specialties: Neurology, Pediatrics, Family Medicine, Gastroenterology, Pathology, Internal Medicine


Children and teens with autism are more likely to be hospitalized for psychiatric care1than their classmates. If we understand why, researchers ask, can we take steps to prevent their problems from reaching that point?
A new study outlines five factors that increase the risk of a psychiatric hospital stay in youth with autism spectrum disorder (ASD). They include, in decreasing order of risk, having:
  • a mood disorder (such as depression, bipolar disorder, or disruptive mood dysregulation disorder)
  • current sleep problems
  • more severe autism symptoms,
  • poor "adaptive" (or everyday living) skills
  • a single-parent household.2
This study is among the first published from researchers in the Autism Inpatient Collection (AIC). The U.S.-based project aims to learn more about youth, ages 4 to 20, who are admitted to one of six in-patient psychiatry units that specialize in developmental disorders. (Youth with autism who are patients on general psychiatric units are not included in this project).
About 1 in 10 youth with autism are admitted to a hospital for mental health care.3 Studies like this one may help lead to better care and prevention of the behavioral crises that land youth in the hospital.

Archived Webinar - Making the Most of Financial Assistance

View the archived webinar here.

Workshop - A Guide to Managing Challenging Behaviors

December 6 (8:00AM to 4:00PM)Hampton Inn (Great Falls)

December 7 (8:00AM to 4:00PM)
Fifth Avenue Christian Church (Havre)

6 OPI Renewal Units
Cost is free

The Guide to Managing Challenging Behaviors training involves an in-troduction to broad-spectrum behavior analysis in the form of the Pyramid Approach to Education. Discussion focuses on the importance of addressing students’ skill deficits prior to or simultaneously with ad-dressing behavior excess or other unwanted behavior is explored. In ad-dition, issues related to teaching skills are addressed. This workshop teaches participants to determine and define unwanted behavior targeted for intervention. Participants are assisted with understanding the func-tional assessment of behavior, and the selection and teaching of alterna-tive responses to replace unwanted behavior. Participants are exposed to antecedent strategies designed to reduce unwanted behavior as well as differential reinforcement procedures and consequence based strategies. Finally, issues related to the evaluation and monitoring of behavior plans are discussed.

Registration LINK

For more information contact Aileen Couch, Region II CSPD Coordinator, at or call 406-395-8550 (ext. 6714).

Transition Workshop: "Integrating Employability Skills: Improving Transition to Employment for Students with Disabilities"

(Dr. Tessie Rose Bailey, Presenter)

November 29 (9:00AM to 4:00PM)

Willson School
404 West Main, Bozeman
6 OPI Renewal Units
Cost is free
Stipend available

Students with disabilities require many skills for post-school success, including academic knowledge, technical expertise, and a set of general, cross-cutting abilities called employability skills. The U.S. Department of Education, through an initiative of the Office of Career, Technical, and Adult, developed the Employability Skills Framework in an effort to clearly identify the general skills necessary for success in the labor market at all employment levels and in all sectors. 

This interactive session will:
  • Introduce participants to the Employability Skills Framework and explain why it is important for students with disabilities 
  • Connect employability skill preparation to transition plans and lesson planning. 
  • Provide tools and strategies to select appropriate assessments and prioritize employability skills at the employer, district, and individual teacher levels.  
The session is relevant for special and general educators, career and technical educators, and vocational rehabilitation staff.

Flyer LINK

Registration LINK (Course #9951)

Provided by Region IV CSPD

Transition Workshop: "Evidence-Based Instructional Strategies for Transition Training"

(Dr. Tessie Rose Bailey, Presenter)

November 28 8:30AM to 4:00PM)

Willson School
404 West Main, Bozeman

6 OPI Renewal Units
Cost is free
Stipend available

Looking for what works in transition planning? This interactive session will present validated approaches for transition assessment, instructional delivery, and data collection/analysis processes. In addition to modeling several evidence-based instructional strategies, this session will also demonstrate how educators can use existing resources to identify appropriate transition activities.

By the end of this session, participants will be able to:

• Use existing resources to identify evidence-based practices in transition services and planning
• Describe the components of three common evidence-based transition practices used in schools programs
• Design and implement a transition-based education for students with disabilities The session is relevant for educators responsible for supporting the development and implementation of transition programs. Although not required, participants are encouraged to bring samples of their own transition plans for activities.

Flyer LINK
Registration LINK (Course #9952)

Data do-over backs dominance of genetics in autism risk

A reanalysis of data from more than 2 million children in Sweden suggests inherited genetic factors account for 83 percent of autism risk1.
A 2014 study using the same dataset pointed to an equal contribution from genetics and the environment, but experts in the field were critical of the findings, citing flaws in the study’s methods.
Then, to their surprise, the researchers came up with a heritability estimate of 85 percent using an overlapping dataset of nearly 800,000 Swedish children2. That result prompted them to revisit their earlier work.
In both studies, non-inherited genetic factors called de novo mutations are included in the 17 percent of autism risk dubbed ‘environmental.’ De novo mutations are thought to be important in autism.

Late birth linked to risk of autism with intellectual disability

Lee and his colleagues analyzed data from 480,728 individuals in the Stockholm Youth Cohort, an ongoing study of children born between 1984 and 2007 in Stockholm, Sweden. Of the roughly 2 percent of children diagnosed with autism, 2,368 have autism with intellectual disability and 7,657 have autism only.
The prevalence of autism is highest — 52.4 per 1,000 — in babies born at 27 weeks of gestation. The rate goes down every week until 40 weeks, when it stands at 19.8 in 1,000. It picks up again in children born between 41 and 43 weeks, when it peaks at 23 in 1,000.
The preterm pattern is similar for children who have autism alone and those who have autism with intellectual disability. But postterm, only the rate for autism with intellectual disability rises significantly, and the rise is small: from 4.6 to 6.2 per 1000 children. The findings were published 12 September in Paediatric and Perinatal Epidemiology.

Children with autism hurt by budget cuts

(NOTE: The services and evaluations referred to in this article are services outside of the school system. The evaluation process will not change for public schools.)

Montana’s budget crisis has serious implications for Big Sky families seeking autism services, particularly those in the Great Falls area.
Specialists who focus on behavior, speech, and development when diagnosing children on the autism spectrum will go from five organizations to only three doctors for the entire state.
The former five organizations had contracts to perform transdisciplinary evaluations - the gold standard nationwide to determine where a child is on the autistic spectrum - but in 2016 the state decided to no longer cover these transdisciplinary evaluations. 
Families could now wait up to a year for this particular test according to Sandi Hursh, the director of Children Services at Quality Life Concepts in Great Falls.
In 2015, the federal government required that states start an autism service plan for children with Medicaid, which put an end to the Children's Autism Waiver Program.

As of July 2017, Hursh said that the QLC couldn't give transdisciplinary evaluations because of budget cuts. Families now have to be referred to Missoula, Billings, or Helena to see one of the three qualified specialists for evaluations.
"We are very concerned because there is nobody in this region that does a transdisciplinary evaluation for diagnosing autism," said Hursh.
She added that if they do get in, families will have to cover the evaluation cost and that could be between $1,500 to $2,000. While doctors can do autism tests, Hursh said many times it is based on what the parents see and will not give the same types of results as a transdisciplinary evaluation.

Libraries and Autism: We're Connected - Grants Available

Libraries and Autism: We're Connected promotes awareness of the needs of individuals with autism spectrum disorder and their families to the library community.
Through the organization's annual Autism Welcome Here: Library Programs, Services and More program, grants of up to $5,000 will be awarded to projects and services for any age group. Applicants may propose to initiate a new creative program or service; bring a successful already-existing program or service to their library; or enhance a program or service they already offer. All programs or services must benefit people with autism or their families, directly or indirectly. Funds may be used to hire a trainer to present a workshop, to buy program materials, to pay for staff, etc.
Any type of library in the United States or Canada may apply.
See the Libraries and Autism website for complete program guidelines, information about previous grant recipients, and application instructions.

Friday, October 27, 2017

I Think We’re Alone Now: Solitary Social Behaviors in Adolescents with Autism Spectrum Disorder

Research into emotional responsiveness in Autism Spectrum Disorder (ASD) has yielded mixed findings. Some studies report uniform, flat and emotionless expressions in ASD; others describe highly variable expressions that are as or even more intense than those of typically developing (TD) individuals. Variability in findings is likely due to differences in study design: some studies have examined posed (i.e., not spontaneous expressions) and others have examined spontaneous expressions in social contexts, during which individuals with ASD—by nature of the disorder—are likely to behave differently than their TD peers. 

To determine whether (and how) spontaneous facial expressions and other emotional responses are different from TD individuals, we video-recorded the spontaneous responses of children and adolescents with and without ASD (between the ages of 10 and 17 years) as they watched emotionally evocative videos in a non-social context. Researchers coded facial expressions for intensity, and noted the presence of laughter and other responsive vocalizations. 

Adolescents with ASD displayed more intense, frequent and varied spontaneous facial expressions than their TD peers. They also produced significantly more emotional vocalizations, including laughter. Individuals with ASD may display their emotions more frequently and more intensely than TD individuals when they are unencumbered by social pressure. Differences in the interpretation of the social setting and/or understanding of emotional display rules may also contribute to differences in emotional behaviors between groups.

Read more here. 

Gold Star to the researchers for the song reference.

Good Science Versus Bad Science: Why Wifi Networks Don't Cause Autism

A recent paper in Child Development has caused concern by alleging a causative connection between non-ionizing radiation (W-Fi) and a host of conditions, including autism and cancer. In this work, we outline why these claims are devoid of merit, and why they should not have been given a scientific veneer of legitimacy. We also outline some hallmarks of potentially dubious science, with the hope that authors, reviews and editors might be better able to avoid suspect scientific claims.

Read the paper here. 

New Study Proves Melatonin Effective Sleep Aid for Children with Autism

Read more here. 

Webinar - Intersections Between Infant/Early Childhood Mental Health and Autism: Identification and Intervention

Wednesday, November 15, 2017, 1:00 p.m. – 2:00 p.m. ET

This webinar will focus on the intersection between infant and early childhood mental health and autism spectrum disorders (ASD) in young children, with a focus on clinical practice. 

We will explore a model for interdisciplinary assessment and diagnosis of ASD in young children within an infant mental health framework. A brief introduction of infant and toddler mental health, the early start Denver model, and floor time will be introduced along with some key guidance to ensure that the focus remains on the parent child relationship while assisting young children diagnosed with autism spectrum disorder develop skills necessary to fill in gaps in developmental areas. 

View the archived webinar here, look to the right of the page for the:

First impressions of adults with autism improve with diagnostic disclosure and increased autism knowledge of peers

A practical consideration for many intellectually able adults with autism spectrum disorder (ASD) is whether to disclose their diagnostic status or try to mask their autistic characteristics to avoid judgment and discrimination. Here, we assessed first impressions of adults with ASD and typically developing controls (N = 40) made by typically developing observers (N = 215) when their diagnostic status was either withheld, accurately provided, or inaccurately provided. First impressions were less favorable for ASD participants compared to typically developing controls across a range of judgments, but were significantly more positive when accurately labeled as ASD compared to when no label was provided, when mislabeled as typically developing, or when mislabeled as having schizophrenia. For typically developing participants, ratings did not change when accurately labeled but improved when mislabeled as ASD. Greater autistic traits for the ASD and typically developing participants were associated with less favorable first impressions, and females were rated more favorably than males. Autism knowledge of the raters, but not age, IQ, or autistic traits, was positively associated with more favorable impressions of ASD participants. Collectively, these findings suggest that first impressions for intellectually able adults with ASD improve with diagnostic disclosure and increased autism understanding on the part of peers.

Thursday, October 26, 2017

Archived Webinar: Connie Kasari evaluates efficacy of autism therapies

You can watch a complete replay of the webinar here.

Autism in Girls and Women: A Rcorded Panel Discussion

The NIMH Office of Autism Research Coordination (OARC) and Office of Research on Disparities and Global Mental Health (ORDGMH) have coordinated efforts to invite three speakers who will talk about the neuroscience of ASD in girls, phenotype/clinical presentation, and challenges and needs faced by girls and women on the autism spectrum.

View the recording and slides here.

Monday, October 23, 2017

Autism Internet Modules

NOTE: This a different online training from what we offer. No OPI continuing education units are available for completing the Autism Internet Modules.)

Explore Modules Covering a Variety of Topics

AIM is designed to provide high-quality information and professional development for anyone who supports, instructs, works with, or lives with someone with autism. Each module guides you through case studies, instructional videos, pre- and post-assessments, a glossary, and much more. AIM modules are available at no cost. If you would like to receive credit for your time on AIM, certificate and credit options are available for a fee.

Earn Graduate Credit

AIM makes it easy to earn graduate credit. AIM graduate credit courses take place entirely online. No face-to-face meetings are required. Currently, AIM graduate credit is available through Ashland University.

Tuesday, October 10, 2017

Unmasking anxiety in autism

Anxiety can assume unusual forms in people with autism — turning uncertainty, or even a striped couch, into a constant worry. New tools may help identify these hidden fears.

There are many reasons it took nearly six years for Kapothanasis to get the help he needed. Doctors may have assumed that his aggression and tendency to hurt himself were part of his autism, Siegel says. Traits that characterize autism — including social deficits, stereotyped movements and restricted interests — can mask or mimic symptoms of anxiety. During a visit to an outpatient clinic, for example, Siegel points out a nonverbal young woman with autism who repeatedly traces a pattern in the air with her hands. At first glance, her gestures resemble ‘stimming,’ the repetitive behaviors often seen in autism. But she does it at specific times, Siegel says, suggesting a ritual related to obsessive-compulsive disorder — a form of anxiety.

Compounding the problem, many people on the spectrum, like Kapothanasis, cannot tell their caregivers or doctors what they are feeling or thinking. Those who can may still struggle to identify and understand their own emotions — a phenomenon called alexithymia — or to articulate them to others. Because of these factors, the clinical questionnaires designed to ferret out anxiety traits in neurotypical individuals are woefully inadequate for many people with autism. The tests may also miss children with autism, who can have unusual phobias, such as a fear of striped couches or exposed pipes.

Read more here at Spectrum.

Monday, October 9, 2017

Missoula Friends and Family of Autism

Missoula Friends and Family of Autism is a collective of individuals from Northwestern Montana (and beyond!) who have come together to support individuals and families in our community who have Autism Spectrum Disorder.  

We are working in collaboration with BASE Missoula and Sunburst Mental Health Missoula to offer both Family Support Groups and Children Support Groups in the Missoula Community. 

A Safe Place for Dylan

As a Columbia Falls family struggles to care for their teenager with autism, they face a future with limited options

It happened over the weekend of Sept. 16.
Dylan went into his 5-year-old brother’s room with a 10-inch butcher knife, intent on leaving through the window. When escape was secured, he dropped the knife in the child’s room.
Successfully out of the house once again, Dylan broke into a nearby trailer.
Though he no longer had the knife, Dylan was obstinate and wouldn’t leave the residence, not even when the police arrived. He finally calmed down enough to leave when handcuffed, and the police released him to his family once outside.
But if it happens again, Dylan might be headed to the emergency room and then Pathways Treatment Center, in an attempt to keep him secure. The family is running out of options, their CDC case manager said.
Dylan survived this incident, just as he’s survived this long with his family watching over him. But they can’t be there every second, and every second is one in which Dylan gets older, stronger, and further from their influence.

Girls With Autism More Likely To Have Younger Siblings With ASD

Parents who have a child on the autism spectrum are more likely than other parents to see a future child diagnosed with autism, too. A new study by Harvard researchers shows the likelihood is much higher when that older child is a girl.
The likelihood is not a certainty, though. Even when an older son or daughter was diagnosed, more than 80 percent of future children were not found to be on the spectrum.
The study found that if an older girl had autism, among her younger siblings a brother had a 17 in 100 chance of being diagnosed with autism. A younger sister had an 8 in 100 chance of being diagnosed.

Suicidal tendencies hard to spot in some people with autism

The statistics around suicide in people with autism are startling: Up to 50 percent of adults with the condition have considered ending their own lives, a rate two to three times that seen in the general population1.
Adults newly diagnosed with autism are particularly at risk, having spent decades feeling atypical without knowing why2. Rates of suicide attempts and death are also elevated among individuals on the spectrum3,4.
In the general population, we often think of suicidality as going hand in hand with depression. Although depression does emerge as the leading predictor of suicidality in people with autism, there is mounting evidence that a substantial proportion of people on the spectrum who contemplate suicide would not meet the criteria for depression3,5,6.

Seattle Education Conference March 2018

The General & Special Education Conference-Seattle in March 2018 will offer 30 full-day coursesoffered by some of the “giants” in education and scientific learning research. Speakers include Dr. Anita Archer, Dr. Judy Willis, MD, MEd, Board-Certified Neurologist, and Tim Odegard, PhD, Developmental Cognitive Psychologist, to name a few.

You can see the conference offerings and find more information here. 

SPARK Autism Study

Find out more here. 

The Rise of ‘Weaponized Autism’

If tracking the general whereabouts of a stranger sounds like a creepy way to kill five minutes, well, that’s part and parcel of 4chan’s “autism” brand: awkwardly unaware of, or indifferent to, accepted manners. Despite the forum’s anonymizing format, prevalent examples of “autism” usually do correspond to invasions of privacy; a legendary instance saw one user obsessively cyberstalk another, seeking out his personal information, even publicly planning the poor guy’s abduction and funeral. When the harassment came to an end at last, “the archiver” posted a 97-page dossier of everything he had collected on his target, leading a stunned observer to remark that his relentlessness “transcends all levels of autism into some new dimension of psychotic.”
In this were hints of a dark meme that was destined to become a tactic: “weaponized autism,” the notion that the irregular rhythms and affect of autistic consciousness could deliver political gain if set loose on a specific problem or enemy.

Prevalence of Schizophrenia Spectrum Disorders in Average-IQ Adults with Autism Spectrum Disorders: A Meta-analysis


Since their separation as independent diagnostics, autism spectrum disorders (ASD) and schizophrenia spectrum disorders (SSD) have been conceptualized as mutually exclusive disorders. Similarities between both disorders can lead to misdiagnosis, especially when it comes to average-IQ adults who were not identified during childhood. The aim of this review was to examine the occurrence of SSD in average-IQ adults with ASD. Electronic and manual searches identified a total of 278 references, of which 10 were included in a meta-analysis. The pooled prevalence of SSD in the total ASD sample was close to 6%, pointing to a high co-occurrence of the two conditions. Further research is needed to determine the factors that predispose members of this population to the emergence of psychotic disorders.

Despite dearth of data, firms sell brain training as autism antidote

There’s no solid evidence that neurofeedback works as a treatment for autism. Most studies of neurofeedback have significant flaws. Still, its lofty promises spell big business: Apart from Neurocore, there are hundreds of centers offering neurofeedback as a therapy in the United States and elsewhere. (The brain-training market, which includes neurofeedback, is worth an estimated $2 billion worldwide.)

So far, the only moderately promising results for autism come from small studies. For example, the results of one trial, published in February, involved 10 children with autism and 7 controls, but no placebo group1. Another study, published in September, involved 17 people with autism and 10 controls2.

Read more here at Spectrum. 

Saturday, October 7, 2017

New Tools Detect Autism Disorders Earlier in Lives

Aside from genetics, any parental contribution to the disorders is probably nil.

A comparison of the two groups revealed that, when analyzed as a group, the brains of 6-month-olds with an autistic sibling showed inefficiencies in the right auditory cortex, an area that processes speech sounds. By 12 months of age, certain neural areas critical for language, touch and self-awareness were also less efficient than those of the control group. “If your brain starts off not processing the sensory inputs efficiently, then it can’t do the proper pruning. It’s just passing on noise,” said Dr. Lewis.
The study was launched seven years ago, and by the time it was complete, the researchers knew which of the high-risk infants ended up with an autism spectrum diagnosis. (Almost 17% of the high-risk group received an autism diagnosis, compared with 1.3% of the control group.) Yet they found that the biological markers of their disorder were evident at 6 months of age.