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Your Guide to Understanding Autism Research Terms and Concepts

January 6, 2019

 

Researching autism involves a lot of very technical terms and advanced scientific understanding, but it doesn’t have to be downright confusing. The year of 2018 provided much advancement to our knowledge of how the disability develops, and there are a few critical microscopic details that can make comprehending this complex material a little easier.

 

Microglia

Microglia are specific immune cells that are found in the brain. We have mentioned microglia in our post about genetic roots of autism.

 

Microglia cells are in every person’s brain, but they are especially important when looking into autistic brains. Individuals with autism are the only ones who seem to experience increased activity of these cells. Uncovering the activation of microglia in conjunction with the autism provides researchers and scientists another clue to being able to identify and diagnose autism early.

 

 

Serotonin

Serotonin is a chemical messenger commonly associated with well-being and happy feelings, but it’s much more complicated than that. It plays a role in learning, memory, and cognition, and these traits are notably affected in cases of autism.

 

Two studies in 2018 linked lower levels of serotonin with more severe autism traits.

 

This information is somewhat confusing, considering that most people with autism have elevated levels of serotonin, but a decline in maternal serotonin hints at development problems.

 

Researchers are still unsure of the exact correlation that serotonin has on the possibility to develop autism. Since research is expected to continue, it’s a good term to be familiar with and be able to recognize for future references.

 

 

Microbiome

One of our recent blog posts discussed the link between autism and mothers’ microbiome.  Again, the microbiome is not a term unique to autism research. Every person has a microbiome, more commonly referenced as the “gut.” This is where millions of microscopic organisms and bacteria live and work to break down food, release vitamins, and fight off harmful germs.

 

The connection to autism comes when the microbiome isn’t able to fight off certain harmful bacteria. Researchers have found one specific bacteria that can’t be killed off, and are somewhat hopeful to find more. Identifying one fact inspires the opportunity to reveal more and move closer toward the possibility of an autism cause.

 

 

Protein

 

Proteins are a significant component of all human cells. It’s used to repair tissue, make chemicals like hormones and enzymes, hair and nails, and builds bones, muscles, skin, cartilage, and blood.

 

Overproduction of protein, at one point, was considered at the very root of autism. That belief has been somewhat discredited as more or less a false pattern. While some with autism, and related disorder fragile X syndrome, overproduce protein; others have entirely normal levels as compared with peers.

 

There’s not a complete understanding of these effects in correlation with autism, which means researchers are bound to continue analyzing its implications. It’s a good term to be aware of and look out for in future studies.

 

 

Gender Differences

 

ICare4Autism’s model school, Shema Kolainu, posted a blog discussing the psychological differences in autistic traits among the genders.

 

Based on a study by The University of Cambridge, there are sometimes significant differences in the way males and females reveal autistic traits. Girls tend to be more emotionally advanced and, although this may seem positive at face value, can be diagnosed late or not at all as a result.

 

Boys, on the other hand, have inspired the “Extreme Male Brain Theory,” expressing less empathy and higher systematic understanding.

 

Males and females with autism aren’t separated to opposite ends of the spectrum, but these differences can play a significant factor in identifying autism going forward.

 

 

The world of autism research is vast and will undoubtedly continue to expand. Having this basic level of understanding on the latest research is useful to build upon and stay up to speed on all the discoveries relating to autism.

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