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Research offers fresh explanations about how autism develops

by Pragati Singh

Autism is a neurodevelopmental illness that affects how people interact and communicate with others as well as how they perceive their environment. People with autism exhibit a wide range of personality characteristics and behavioural symptoms. The condition is so frequently referred to as a spectrum disorder with a wide range of small differences.
An explanatory model provided in a research from the University of Gothenburg has made it possible to more precisely determine how autism develops. This new model clarifies how numerous risk factors affect autism and explains why there is such broad individual diversity.

The new explanatory model is theoretical but also applicable because its many parts may be measured using tools like surveys, genetic mapping, and psychological exams. The model explains several contributing elements and how they interact to diagnose autism and lead to other neurodevelopmental problems.
Three significant components are linked by the model. Together, they provide a behavioural pattern that satisfies the requirements for an autism diagnosis:
1. Autistic personality—common genetic variations that run in families and cause autistic personalities.
2. Cognitive compensation, which includes intellect and executive skills including the ability to learn, comprehend others, and adjust to social situations.

3. Being exposed to risk factors, such as bad genetic variations, infections, and other unforeseen occurrences during pregnancy and early life that impair cognitive function.
“Although the autistic personality is linked to both cognitive abilities and weaknesses, it does not imply that the diagnostic criteria are met. However, exposure to risk factors that impair people’s cognitive ability may have an impact on how well they can handle challenges, which helps explain why some people develop autism “explains Dr. Darko Sarovic, the thesis’ author and a postdoctoral researcher at Sahlgrenska Academy, University of Gothenburg.
The model makes it evident that the numerous diverse risk variables working together are what cause the significant variations between people on the spectrum.

Results from earlier studies provide support for the model’s many elements.
People with high executive functioning abilities may be able to make up for their disability in a way that lessens the symptoms, lowering their likelihood of achieving the diagnostic criteria for autism. This may help to explain why persons with autism and other neurodevelopmental problems tend to have lower levels of intellect when seen as a group, according to studies. Additionally, it helps explain why intellectual impairment is more prevalent in these populations. Therefore, the model suggests that having low cognitive capacity is not a trait of being autistic but rather a risk factor for meeting diagnostic criteria.

“The autistic personality is associated with various strengths. For example, parents of children with autism are overrepresented among engineers and mathematicians. The parents themselves have probably been able to compensate for their own autistic personality traits and thus have not met the criteria for an autism diagnosis. The impact of the disorder has then become more noticeable in their children owing, for instance, to exposure to risk factors and relatively low cognitive ability,” Sarovic says.

Boys are more likely than girls to be diagnosed with autism, while females are frequently diagnosed much later in life. Some girls experience sporadic personal problems for many years before being diagnosed as adults.

“Girls’ symptoms are frequently less obvious to outsiders. Girls are considered to have more developed social abilities than boys, which suggests that they are likely better at making up for their own shortcomings. Additionally, girls are less likely to exhibit autistic characteristics and are more resistant to the impacts of risk factors. Therefore, the model can assist in providing answers to queries regarding the gender gap “Said Sarovic.
The model also suggests methods for measuring and estimating the three elements (autistic personality, cognitive compensation and exposure to risk factors).

As a result, it is feasible to organise research investigations and evaluate the outcomes using the model. Another potential application is in diagnostics. In a pilot research with 24 individuals who had received an autism diagnosis and 22 controls who had not, evaluating the three model elements allowed more than 93% of participants to be accurately classified into the appropriate category. The concept may be used to explain how other neurodevelopmental illnesses, such schizophrenia, first appear.

Darko Sarovic continues to be connected to the Gillberg Neuropsychiatry Centre at the University of Gothenburg in Sweden while working as a postdoctoral research fellow at Harvard Medical School in Boston, Massachusetts. Title: Development of Theoretical Models, Classification Methods, and Biomarkers in a Multimodal Approach to Biological Categorization of Autism.



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