Learning Disability Today
Supporting professionals working in learning disability and autism services

Research that helps us better understand who needs autism support

Two interesting pieces of research on autism were released inthe past week, and hopefully they will help more people with autismto get the right support more quickly. Firstly, a new report,’Estimating the Prevalence of Autism Spectrum Conditions in Adults:Extending the 2007 Adult Psychiatric Morbidity Survey’, byresearchers at the University of Leicester and published by the NHSInformation Centre, found a much higher prevalence of autism in adults with asevere learning disability than had been previously thought.This group were also previously ‘invisible’ to services becausethey were cared for at home by relatives. In addition, researchpublished in the journal Current Biology found that autism could be detected in babies. Currently,children with autism are usually diagnosed in early childhood, butresearchers found that babies who go on to develop autism showdifferent brain responses when someone looks at them or away fromthem in the first year of life. While the researchers were keen topoint out that further research is needed and that the method usedis not always accurate – some babies who showed different brainresponses did not go on to develop autism – it does give hope thatearlier diagnoses of autism may be possible in the future. Boththese reports improve our understanding of the condition and shouldhelp to identify more people with autism. This can only be a goodthing; the earlier someone is identified with a condition on theautism spectrum the better, because then they can get theappropriate interventions that can help them to realise their fullpotential. Reports like these should also help commissioners ofservices, who will be better able to judge – and plan for – theright level of autism-related provision . While more research needsto be conducted – especially in regard to the condition in babies -it shows that our understanding of autism is growing, and as aresult, diagnosis, treatment and, most importantly, the lives ofpeople with autism, should all see real improvement.

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