The Importance of Autism Research

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Last week, a story went viral about a barber in Wales who showed patience and compassion when an autistic boy came into his shop. The barber, James Williams, learned that Mason was unwilling to be touched on certain parts of his head, and therefore afraid of haircuts. James worked with Mason for months to help him and finally was able to give him a proper haircut last week. James documented his progress on social media, which shows photos of him getting on the floor with Mason and easing him into being comfortable.

Autism awareness is definitely spreading, and people are becoming more and more informed of what they can expect from people on the spectrum. As a result, the general public is becoming educated and compassionate. In a society that accepts them, autistic people can live happy, healthy lives. The Autism Speaks site lists inspiring stories of adults with autism finding employment.

This is one of many reasons why continued autism research is so important. The sooner someone on the spectrum receives treatment from an autism specialist, the better chance he or she has of thriving as an adult. Since so many people now fall on the spectrum (an estimated one in 68 children is diagnosed), our best course of action is to educate ourselves on how we can best understand them and accommodate their needs.

Of course, this is not the only reason why autism research is so important. Here are five good reasons why studies need to be ongoing:

  1. We have a lot of catching up to do. Research on autism lags behind that of other psychiatric disorders and medical conditions. Part of the delay can be traced to the flawed constructs of autism that followed its identification in the 1940s. The early misconceptions cost a lot of time that needs to be made up for in researching.
  2. There are a wide variety of studies that still need to be done. Despite the rapid advances in genetics, most clinical research hasn’t considered individual and genetic differences. A lot of the studies have been broad—and the more specific we can get, the better we’ll be at diagnosis and treatment.
  3. Even if a true cure or the direct cause of autism was discovered tomorrow, there are still millions of children and adults that fall on the spectrum. Autism would never disappear overnight. Therefore, we need to research more so we can better help people affected.
  4. The more we discover about autism spectrum disorders, the more we realize we still have to learn. For example, we can now categorize ASD into autism, Asperger’s Syndrome and Pervasive Developmental Disorder. We are aware that folic acid taken during pregnancy might reduce the risk of autism. And we now know the importance of early intervention.
  5. Speaking of early intervention, an early diagnosis can do more than improve behaviors. It can actually improve brain function. The earlier people are diagnosed and start receiving treatment from a Newport Beach psychiatrist, the greater their odds of cognitive improvement. We need to continue researching autism to help us detect it even earlier.

While behavioral treatment for autism spectrum disorders is very effective, patients would benefit tremendously from medical care as well. Medical treatment of autism has been notoriously unsuccessful. It is possible that greater success could result from smaller trials and more specific studies. This research should be given high priority since it could help end the severe impairments some autistic people face.

Basic social skills are usually very difficult for people with autism. As a result, people can perceive them as rude or bizarre. If more people had a better understanding of the way autistic minds work, they may be more forgiving and accepting. This would prevent a lot of loneliness and social isolation autistic people sometimes feel.

Clearly, autism research is important for the people currently affected as well as for those who can prevent symptoms in the future. But it’s also important for understanding the larger class of neurodevelopment disorder surrounding it. Autism is not a single disorder, but rather a spectrum of closely related disorders with a shared core of symptoms. If we can identify every disorder and treat it effectively, it will make a huge difference in people’s lives.

The wide-ranging complexity of autism makes understanding it difficult, but also compelling. Only in recent years has autism research become an exercise in collaboration within the medical and scientific communities. Autism is still a diagnosis with more questions than answers. We need to research so that we may answer those questions.