Top Ten Autism Research Advances of 2012

Date: 
December 15, 2012

In 2012, autism dominated headlines as never before. Public awareness skyrocketed with new updates on autism’s estimated prevalence (1 in 88) and costs to society ($137 billion per year nationally). Controversy roiled around proposed changes to how autism spectrum disorder (ASD) will be diagnosed in the years ahead.

Behind the headlines – or at least off the front page – the field of autism research experienced a significant growth in the number of publications and scientists entering the field. In recent years, the field has drawn hundreds of talented scientists from other areas of science. In 2012, we saw many of these teams publishing important findings that confirmed and built on the pioneering discoveries of previous years.

We think you’ll see this growth on the pages of this, our fourth annual “Top Ten” report. Instead of isolated breakthroughs, many of this year’s top advances represent broad progress in areas of autism science and involve multiple research teams at sites across the nation and the world.

Some of these advances helped solidify relatively new fields of autism research such as environmental science and translational research. We saw a deeper understanding of possible links between environmental exposures, genetic vulnerability and autism risk. We saw real progress in safely moving promising medicines out of the laboratory and into clinical trials.

The year likewise brought progress in more established areas of autism science, including genetics and behavioral therapies. This included evidence that intensive early intervention can change autism’s underlying brain biology and new insights into the complexity of autism genetics. Some of these genetic discoveries also held promise for identifying new targets for treating autism’s core symptoms.

As always, our choice of the year’s most important advances in autism research was guided by the expertise and perspective of Autism Speaks dedicated Scientific Advisory Committee and its science department leadership. In no way is it meant to be exhaustive.

We hope you’ll enjoy this update.  It represents a step forward in a process that we hope to accelerate through our research funding at Autism Speaks.

Table of Contents

(Order does not imply relative importance.)

1. CDC Revises Estimate of Autism Prevalence: 1 in 88

2. Field Trials Suggest New Criteria for Diagnosing Autism ‘Reliable’

3. Deeper Understanding of Link between Chemical Pollutants and Autism

4. Hundreds of Tiny Mutations Linked to Autism

5. Insights into Immune Changes & Autism

6. Discovery of Pre-symptom Marker of Autism

7. Early Intervention Program Alters Brain Activity in Children with Autism

8. Peer Training Outperforms Traditional Autism Interventions

9. Arbaclofen Shows Promise for Treating Core Symptoms of Autism

10. Mounting Evidence of Critical Need for Adult Transition Support

Click here for a PDF of the “Top Ten Autism Research Advances of 2012.”