The Institute of Medicine used the words ‘autism' and ‘environment' in the same sentence, heralding a new legitimacy for environmental research in autism.
Researchers identified that lack of response to your name at one year of age is one of the earliest warning signs of autism, and that signs of autism can now be identified at 14 months of age in half of the children with the disorder, continuing to push the window of opportunity for early intervention.
Converging evidence suggested that parental age serves as a risk factor: either maternal or paternal age (or both) is related to – but not necessarily the cause of – increased risk of autism.
The most sophisticated application to date of geographic information systems and data-mining (something which has been used for air pollution and asthma for years) assessed prenatal environmental exposures in autism and revealed critical periods of chemical exposures that are associated with an increased risk of autism in some groups.
Discovery of rare families with SHANK3 gene mutations added further evidence to support the synaptic dysfunction hypothesis. The SHANK3 gene codes for a protein involved in the formation and maintenance of synapses. It also interacts with the neuroligins and the neurexins, two other synaptic proteins that have been discovered mutated in autism.