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Autism: The Pervasive Developmental Disorder

No disorder captures the attention of the nation like autism. David G. Amaral, PhD, explains what exactly autism is, and where the most promising research on the subject is located.

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Introduction

Parents and physicians track when children reach developmental milestones. Sometimes, missing these targets or developing abnormal behaviors is an indication of a nervous system disorder and cause for evaluation by medical professionals. Scientists have strong evidence that some childhood disorders, including autism and Rett syndrome, are caused by impairments in brain development. Others such as attention deficit-hyperactivity disorder (ADHD) are believed to be caused, in part, by abnormal brain cell activity. Human and animal research has shown that problems in genes, molecules, and cells contribute to various childhood disorders. These studies could one day lead to the development of new drugs or specialized education programs, and the early diagnosis of childhood disorders can help parents make informed decisions about treatment.

Discoveries

Taking a Genetic View of ADHD

Source: Wellcome Trust
Attention deficit hyperactivity disorder is a common mental health problem that severely disrupts people's lives. It is poorly understood and often dismissed as bad behaviour or laziness. Penny Bailey spoke with Anita Thapar about its genetic basis.

Autism

Source: Society for Neuroscience
Autism spectrum disorders (ASD) are characterized by impaired social skills; verbal and nonverbal communication difficulties; and narrow, obsessive interests or repetitive behaviors.

Synapse Communication and Developmental Brain Disorders

Source: Society for Neuroscience
Until recently, scientists believed inherited developmental brain disorders, such as fragile X syndrome, Rett syndrome, tuberous sclerosis, and autism, were caused by permanent brain abnormalities.

Down Syndrome

Source: Society for Neuroscience
Down syndrome, the most frequently occurring chromosomal condition, appears in 1 of every 691 babies, or about 6,000 babies annually in the U.S.

Confronting Attention Deficit Hyperactivity Disorder

Source: Society for Neuroscience
The growing prevalence and cost of ADHD calls for research to better understand the disorder.

Childhood Disorders in the News

Autism Gene Affects Brain Function Early in Development

Source: Simons Foundation Autism Research Initiative
Date: 28 July 2014

Mutations in a gene linked to intellectual disability and sometimes autism may lead to a permanent boost in brain activity, according to a study.


The Roots of Autism Are in the…Skin?

Source: National Geographic Phenomena Blog
Date: 21 May 2014
Some researchers believe that nerves, known as C-tactile (CT) afferents, are crucial for the development of the social brain.

Ritalin may Pose Brain Risks for Young People without ADHD, Study Shows

Source: FOX News
Date: 13 May 2014
Research is showing that methylphenidate may have some brain risks for those taking the drug without a prescription – or for those misdiagnosed with ADHD.

Brain Scans Could Save Kids from ADHD Misdiagnoses

Source: WIRED
Date: 2 May 2014
A study has shown that ADHD sufferers may have altered brain function and structure that can be picked up by scans and appropriately diagnosed.