Archived News: In Research and Intervention
The Ruderman Family Foundation Awards a $2.5 Million Grant to Fund New “Young Adults Transitions to Work” Program
The Ruderman Family Foundation has awarded a major grant of $2.5 million to Combined Jewish Philanthropies of Boston to begin an innovative program placing young adults with disabilities in work settings. “Young Adults Transition to Work” will be run by Jewish Vocational Services and will provide job training, placement, and support for young adults with disabilities. They expected that within 5 years, the program will help several hundred adults become more successfully employed.
Study Examines Patterns of Brain Activity of Siblings of People with ASD in Response to Facial Expressions
Previous research has found differences in brain activity when looking at photos of facial expressions between individuals with autism and control groups through the use of functional MRI’s. This study, conducted by researchers from the University of Cambridge and published in Translation Psychiatry, is the first to observe the brain activity of individuals with autism in addition to that of their siblings (without autism). The scans of the siblings of the individuals with autism revealed decreased brain activity, relative to the control group, in various areas of the brain, including those associated with empathy and understanding emotions. The scans of the individuals with autism also showed decreased activity in the same areas, though to a greater degree. This research supports the idea of this area of the brain as a potential “biomarker” for autism and also further supports the theory of both genetic and environmental factors.
Recent Study Suggests Stronger Environmental Role in Autism Prevalence than Previously Thought
In a recent report published in the July 2011 issue of the Archives of General Psychiatry, the results of a large twin study suggest that although genetic factors clearly play a role, environmental factors contributing to ASD have been underestimated. The researchers (a collaboration of UCSF Institute for Human Genetics, Stanford University, and other partners) found that a child with an identical twin with ASD had a 77% chance of also having ASD. A child with a fraternal (non-identical) twin with ASD had a 31% chance of also being on the spectrum. These rates continue to support a strong genetic link, as they suggest rates much higher than the average population. However, in this study, the link between fraternal twins is much higher than previously reported, and much higher than non-twin siblings, thus suggesting a stronger environmental component than previously suspected. This study suggests that the impact, particularly of the prenatal environment (the mother’s womb), may play a role. Further research is needed in this area to replicate the findings and to answer the next question: What are the specific environmental factors that influence the likelihood of diagnosis?