A flood of new research is advancing our
understanding of autism and highlighting
the need for earlier interventions.
BY EVE GLICKSMAN
One in 88 children. That was the jarring statistic released in March when the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention reported the number of
U.S. children with autism. If that number didn’t get your
attention, the report also announced a 23 percent jump in
autism rates from 2006 to 2008, and a 78 percent increase
Some researchers say the dramatic data are due to broader
definitions of autism and earlier identification, but CDC’s
higher-than-expected statistics are a call to action with
implications for psychologists.
“Many psychologists have little or no training in working
with autistic adults. Twenty years ago, adult psychologists
might have gone through an entire career without really
needing this information,” says Judith Miller, PhD, training
director at the Center for Autism Research, Children’s
Hospital of Philadelphia. “Today, however, it’s important for
the general psychologist to understand how mental disorders
manifest in people with autism spectrum disorders (ASD).
There will be opportunities to incorporate clients with ASD
into a more general practice and also to develop specialty
services for these unique and interesting individuals.”
With the increased attention on ASD, federal agencies,
advocacy groups and others have raised or targeted millions of
dollars for research to tease out the causes of ASD and identify
how best to treat it. The flurry of research began around 2006,
with the Combating Autism Act. The federal Interagency
Autism Coordinating Committee also spearheaded much of the
The latest findings are changing what we know about autism
and, in particular, stress the need for diagnosis and treatment
before age 6 when treatment is known to be the most effective.
The newest research suggests it’s even possible to reverse autism
symptoms in some infants and toddlers or, more commonly,
decrease the severity of the symptoms.
“The hope is that if we can improve intervention with
infants and toddlers, many of them will be able to leave
their disabilities behind by age 5,” says Sally J. Rogers, PhD, a
professor of psychiatry and behavioral sciences at the M.I.N.D.
Institute at University of California Davis Medical Center.