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Saturday, March 9, 2024

Autism Research: British Perspectives

 In The Politics of Autism, I write:

As long as government funds so much research, politics will shape the questions that scientists ask and determine the kinds of research that receive funding.  Politics will even influence which scientists the policymakers will believe and which findings will guide public policy. In the end, science cannot tell us what kinds of outcomes we should want.  ABA “works” in the sense that it helps some autistic people become more like their typically developing peers.  Most parents regard such an outcome as desirable, but not all people on the spectrum agree.  

 Amelia Hill at The Guardian:

Dr Grainne McAlonan, a clinical professor of translational neuroscience at the department of forensic and neurodevelopmental sciences and Institute of Psychiatry, Psychology and Neuroscience at King’s College London, has just started investigating a psychedelic compound – psilocybin – found in magic mushrooms.

She is looking at the serotonin pathway, which plays a key role in a range of essential functions such as sensory processing, cognition, mood and sleep. One of the most consistent findings in autism research are differences in the serotonin pathway: more than 25% of autistic people have high blood serotonin levels.

If McAlonan identifies individual differences in the brain serotonin system targeted by psilocybin, the next step will be to ask whether they can establish if there is a biological response to the drug that might be clinically useful. “Ultimately, this research may allow us to provide more personalised choices for those autistic people who want the option of a medication for their difficulties,” she said.

This was an exciting time for autism research, said Matthew Swindells, an evidence, research and evaluation manager at the National Autistic Society.

He points to other research that addresses real-life issues, including the Bridging Project led by the University of Plymouth, which uses virtual reality to reduce the autism employment gap; autism in affinity spaces, led by Queen Mary University London, which explores how young autistic people use social media platforms to engage in their interests; and Audit 50, led by University College London, which focuses on the experiences of older autistic people, an often overlooked population.

Swindells said: “Perhaps, most importantly, researchers have moved away from stigmatising, deficit-based language and approaches. Instead, it has started to focus on the topics that really matter to autistic people. This can be seen with the emergence of more autistic lead researchers, as well as some brilliant examples of participatory approaches within research practice.”