For years, people have been trying to figure out the reason why so many children have been diagnosed with autism. The numbers are baffling: 1 in 88 children. As a parent, you search for the answers and ask yourself many times over, “Why my child?” The day and hour came to mind when we decided to change the “Why?” question into “How can we help our daughter?” It was a freeing moment to change our focus and start researching what resources were available.
This past month, an outstanding conference was held at Stanford University’s Autism Center. The researchers came up with four major discoveries that answer both questions: why and how. Four main points of interest were discussed.
It has been discussed for a long time that brain chemistry plays an important role in Autism. Oxytocin and vasopressin were the two main brain chemicals researched. Through experiments with oxytocin, two major discoveries were made. First, it was discovered with treatment that there was an increase in recognizing and understanding other people’s emotions in social situations. A second discovery was that in non-social situations there was a reduction of obsessive over-attentiveness. A second chemical, Vasopressin, has shown results in improving social function. However, more research is being done to show the full effectiveness of it.
The second discovery was linked to studies revolving around the brain. Through the use of improved neuroimaging techniques, brain size distinctions were made with people who live with autism. The size and thickness of the cerebral part of the brain were overgrown in children with autism. However, the size appeared to decrease as the children matured. It was also noted that the corpus callosum, which connects the two hemispheres of the brain, was much smaller in children with autism and remained small as the children grew. More research is underway to truly discover what role this plays with people who live with autism.
It is exciting to read the research and to think of all the possibilities our children will have in the future to better understand Autism. Next month, I will summarize the last two discoveries that were discussed at the conference. Until then, enjoy the Spring weather!