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National Autism Congress: focus on autism at every age

National Autism Congress: focus on autism at every age

Early signs of autism are already noticeable before the age of one. Furthermore, female autists have a hard time maintaining their jobs. These issues were addressed by renown scientists during the 15th National Autism Congress on the 27th of March in Rotterdam.

Autism spectrum disorder (ASD) is usually diagnosed around the age of four, but the first symptoms are already visible at a much younger age, says professor Lonnie Zwaigenbaum, co-director of the Autism Research Centre at the University of Alberta. He researches early diagnosis of autism and presented the results of a prospective study with newborn siblings of children with ASD.

Differences between children with and without ASD may already become apparent during the first twelve months after birth. Autistic babies have deficits in visual attention, neuromotor development and the shifting of attention. “Children are getting stuck”, Zwaigenbaum explains. Especially the patterns of development had prognostic value for the manifestation of ASD later on. This was seen as a negative trend in a subgroup of siblings with ASD: after a while, they lost acquired skills again.  

Additionally, research on adults with ASD is becoming increasingly popular. In the past, many studies concentrated on interventions in children, while the effects of (non-)pharmaceutical treatments in older age groups remained largely unknown. Professor Marsha Mailick, director of the Waisman Center at the University of Wisconsin-Madison presented a ten-year follow-up study on the changes in vocational and educational activities for autists.

The loss of structure and entitlement to special services after graduation appear to have a great impact on the independence and social involvement of people with ASD. After leaving school, vocational and educational activities decrease considerably and this trend is irreversible. Female autists are affected even more: their decline in activities was fifteen times greater than in men.

These results from the US also concern the Netherlands. The congress chair, Herman van Engeland, professor of child psychiatry and pathopsychology at the University of Utrecht, concluded: “These are interesting data, because Dutch politicians are cutting costs for social workers and special programs, also for autism.”

Sources: 15th National Autism Congress 

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