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The Impact of Private Equity on the Therapy Industry: A Focus on Applied Behavior Analysis

Introduction to Industry Changes

The therapy industry, notably sectors focused on autism and behavioral disorders, has undergone significant transformations over the past decade. Applied Behavior Analysis (ABA) therapy, a critical intervention for autism spectrum disorders, has seen particularly intense change. This transformation has been fueled largely by the influx of private equity investment. While the industry grows, the essential focus on patient care is often overshadowed by profit motives. This blog post examines the consequences of these changes, particularly how they affect service quality and accessibility in ABA therapy.

Rise of ABA Therapy

ABA therapy is rooted in a methodical approach that encourages positive behaviors in individuals with autism through reinforcement strategies. As autism diagnoses have increased—current data suggests 1 in 36 children in the U.S. are diagnosed—the demand for specialized services like ABA has surged. This therapy is not only popular but also expensive, with costs potentially reaching $60,000 per year for intensive interventions, which are often covered by insurance and Medicaid.

The Attraction of Private Equity

Private equity firms are attracted to the therapy industry by the promise of steady, insurance-funded revenue streams. Their typical strategy involves buying companies, optimizing operations for cost-efficiency, and selling them at a profit. However, this often results in cost-cutting measures that can compromise the quality of patient care.

The Case of CARD

A poignant example is the Center for Autism and Related Disorders (CARD), which was acquired by Blackstone in 2018. CARD, once a thriving network with 265 locations, filed for bankruptcy by 2023 after closing 100 centers. This dramatic shift left many families without services, disrupting the care of vulnerable children like Javier Bautista, whose story of disrupted therapy highlights the human cost of these corporate strategies.

Financial Strategies and Their Impacts

Private equity’s model typically loads acquired companies with debt, betting on aggressive growth strategies. For CARD, this meant expanding services without a proportionate investment in staff training or retention, which diluted the quality of care. When revenues did not meet expectations, especially during the COVID-19 pandemic, the financial structure became unsustainable, leading to cutbacks and closures.

Effects on Staff and Service Quality

The influx of private equity has also affected the workforce within the therapy industry. There is often a push to increase the caseloads on staff while reducing supervision and ongoing training, which can lead to burnout and turnover. This diminishes the quality of care and undermines the therapeutic outcomes for patients.

Regulatory and Ethical Concerns

The operational changes driven by private equity raise significant ethical and regulatory concerns. Instances of inappropriate treatment strategies, as reported in J.J.’s case, where techniques used were deemed provocative rather than therapeutic, highlight the potential harm to patients. Such practices have led to legal actions and calls for tighter industry regulation.

The Broader Impact on the Healthcare System

The strategy of maximizing short-term profits is not isolated to autism services. Studies across healthcare sectors have shown that private equity-owned facilities often see worse patient outcomes. This is attributed to understaffing, reduced spending on patient care, and an emphasis on financial metrics at the expense of service quality.

Pushback and Reform

There is growing scrutiny of private equity’s role in healthcare. Recent investigations by federal agencies and academic studies suggest that these investments might prioritize profits over patients, prompting calls for regulatory reform. Proposals include setting minimum staff-to-patient ratios and enhancing transparency in ownership and financial operations.

Advocacy and the Role of Families

Families and advocates are becoming increasingly vocal about their experiences and challenges. The story of J.J. and his mother withdrawing him from CARD following poor treatment practices is just one example of the increasing pushback against the perceived commodification of care.

Rebuilding Trust and Quality

In response to widespread criticism, some original founders, like Doreen Granpeesheh of CARD, have stepped in to buy back and stabilize their organizations. Their focus is on restoring trust and prioritizing clinical quality over financial gains. This shift back to a more care-focused model is seen as critical in rebuilding patient and community trust.

The Future of ABA Therapy

Looking ahead, the therapy industry, particularly ABA, stands at a crossroads. Will it continue to be driven by investment firms looking for high returns, or can it return to its roots of patient-centered care? The answer will depend largely on the actions of policymakers, the advocacy of families, and the ethical stance of the industry’s leaders.

Conclusion: A Call for Balanced Approaches

The need for a balanced approach that respects the financial realities of running large-scale operations without compromising on the quality of care is essential. The therapy industry must navigate these complex waters with an eye toward ethical practices, regulatory compliance, and, above all, the welfare of its patients. As stakeholders reassess their strategies, the hope is that they will prioritize long-term sustainability over short-term gains, ensuring that services like ABA remain available, effective, and patient-focused.

Navigating the Surge in Autism Diagnoses in the US and UK and Charting the Course for Inclusive Care

As a team of board-certified behavior analysts operating within the complex and ever-evolving landscape of autism spectrum disorder (ASD) in the United States, we are deeply immersed in the nuanced realities that accompany the diagnosis and treatment of autism. Our perspective is informed by our extensive clinical experience, ongoing education, and the latest research findings in the field.

The recent surge in autism diagnoses both in the UK and the US is a phenomenon that has captured our professional attention and concern. In the United Kingdom, there has been an astounding 787% increase in autism diagnoses from 1998 to 2018. This exponential rise in diagnoses is not isolated to the UK; in the United States, there has been a notable increase in the prevalence of ASD among adults, particularly among Medicaid enrollees, where prevalence nearly doubled from 4.2 per 1,000 in 2011 to 9.5 per 1,000 in 2019. These figures reflect a broader trend that we, as behavior analysts, are observing in our work: autism is becoming more commonly diagnosed across all ages, and the spectrum of those diagnosed is broadening.

The reasons behind this significant increase in diagnoses are multi-faceted. Enhanced awareness and understanding of ASD, both within the medical community and the general public, have played a critical role. The expansion of diagnostic criteria and the recognition of autism in populations previously overlooked, such as women, girls, and older adults, have contributed to more individuals receiving diagnoses. These changes reflect a positive shift towards inclusivity and recognition of the diverse manifestations of autism.

However, this rise in diagnoses also raises complex questions about overdiagnosis and the boundaries of the autism spectrum. The concept of neurodiversity and the movement towards recognizing and celebrating differences rather than pathologizing them have influenced how we, as clinicians, approach autism. Yet, as the spectrum broadens, we find ourselves grappling with the implications of diagnosing individuals who may have previously been considered neurotypical but exhibit traits associated with ASD.

From our vantage point in the field, the most pressing issue is not solely the increase in diagnoses but the critical need for support and services that address the unique needs of individuals on the autism spectrum. The disparities in access to diagnostic services, particularly for adults and underserved populations, highlight the necessity for a more inclusive and comprehensive approach to autism care. Furthermore, the shifting demographics of the autism community, with a notable decrease in the percentage of individuals with ASD who also have intellectual disability, underscores the importance of tailored interventions that cater to a wider range of needs and abilities.

Our focus is increasingly on how we can best support individuals with ASD to lead fulfilling lives. This entails not just diagnosing autism but providing ongoing support, education, and interventions that are responsive to the individual’s needs, strengths, and challenges. The intersection of autism with mental health, education, employment, and social integration presents complex challenges that require a multifaceted and compassionate approach.

As behavior analysts, we are committed to advancing our understanding of autism through evidence-based practice, research, and advocacy. We recognize the importance of viewing autism within the broader context of neurodiversity and are dedicated to supporting individuals with ASD in achieving their potential. The rise in autism diagnoses calls for a renewed commitment to providing comprehensive and person-centered care, enhancing public awareness, and advocating for policies that support the autism community.

The landscape of autism is dynamic and complex. As professionals in the field, we are continually adapting to these changes, striving to balance the nuances of diagnosis with the imperative to provide meaningful support. Our ultimate goal is to contribute to a society where individuals with ASD are understood, valued, and supported to lead lives that are enriching and fulfilling.

How Mice in Lab Coats Are Teaching Us to Think Outside the Autism Box

Hello there, fellow therapy aficionados and science enthusiasts! Let’s dive into something that’s been brewing in my seasoned therapist’s pot for over two decades. We’re talking about autism, a rainbow of experiences where no two colors are quite the same. Remember Stephen Shore’s golden words? “If you’ve met one person with autism, you’ve met one person with autism.” Well, he wasn’t kidding!

Now, onto something exciting brewing at Children’s Hospital Los Angeles. These folks are onto something big, and it’s about time! They’re shaking up the autism research world with their new study, and let me tell you, it’s not your average, run-of-the-mill research.

For years, we’ve been using these cookie-cutter animal models in labs to study autism. Picture a line of identical white mice, all cloned from the same mold. Not exactly representative of the wonderfully diverse human population, right? That’s like expecting every therapist to have the same sense of humor (spoiler: we don’t).

Enter the CHLA team, led by the dynamic duo of Manal Tabbaa, PhD, and Pat Levitt, PhD. They’re mixing things up by introducing genetically diverse rodent models. Think of it as a party with 33 different types of mice, each bringing their unique genetic flair to the table.

The focus? The CHD8 gene mutation, a known but not consistent player in the autism game. The team compared mice with the mutation across various genetic backgrounds to a control group without the mutation. And surprise, surprise! The mutation manifested in myriad ways, just like in humans.

Here’s where it gets juicy for us therapists. This approach could revolutionize how we understand and treat autism. By acknowledging the genetic diversity, we’re closer to tailoring treatments that actually resonate with each individual’s unique needs. It’s like finally having a therapy toolbox that’s not just filled with hammers when you need a screwdriver.

But, let’s not get ahead of ourselves. Implementing this on a grand scale is like trying to organize a therapists’ convention where everyone agrees on the best therapy approach (good luck with that). We need more resources, more collaboration, and maybe a sprinkle of fairy dust.

In the meantime, Dr. Tabbaa is using this groundbreaking model to delve deeper into the mysteries of autism’s neurobiology. The hope? That these lab discoveries will transform into real-world treatments that actually make a difference.

So there you have it, folks! Autism research is getting a much-needed makeover, and it’s about time. Here’s to hoping that the future of autism treatment is as diverse and colorful as the spectrum itself. Now, if only we could get those lab mice to fill out their own therapy feedback forms…

school woes

School Bell Blues: A Dive into the World of Autism and Classroom Conundrums

As a school psychologist with a penchant for humor (but always keeping it professional), I’ve stumbled upon some findings that’ll make you sit up in your swivel chair. Picture this: a world where “school distress” is more than just forgetting your lunch money. In the latest scoop from the UK, a study has thrown the spotlight on the not-so-funny reality that kids with autism spectrum disorders (ASD) are facing a tougher time at school than trying to dodge dodgeball.

Sophie Connolly and the gang dove deep, gathering intel from 947 parents who are pretty much experts on the frontlines of school distress. And get this: a whopping 92.1% of the kiddos feeling the school strain are waving the neurodivergent flag, with 83.4% on Team Autism. On the flip side, the “chillaxed” group at school had only a 16.8% showing from the autism squad. Turns out, our autism team members are hitting the distress button earlier and it’s sticking around longer than unwanted gum under a desk.

Now, for a twist more surprising than a pop quiz on a Monday, sensory processing hiccups and the ever-zoomy ADHD are also crashing the distress party. And let’s not forget about the gatecrashers: anxiety and a knack for avoiding demands like they’re the last pick for the sports team.

Here’s a thought that might just ruffle some feathers: the majority of our school-distressed crew are braving the wilds of mainstream education. So, it begs the question – is the one-size-fits-all approach to schooling more outdated than my old flip phone?

Diving deeper, this study didn’t just stick to the kids already in the autism club; they cast a wider net to include those on the waiting list. Because, let’s face it, waiting for an autism diagnosis in the UK is longer than the line for the newest roller coaster.

In wrapping up, the study’s masterminds are calling for a tag team effort with the neurodivergent VIPs to rewrite the rulebook on education. Because if there’s anything we know, it’s that understanding the unique ways these brilliant minds learn is no laughing matter (though a chuckle now and then doesn’t hurt).

So, from my corner of the school, armed with a diploma and a dad-joke arsenal, let’s navigate these classroom conundrums together. After all, isn’t education about making sure every kid can find their place in the schoolyard sun?

Understanding the Intersection of Gender Diversity and Autism: Insights from a Behavioral Therapist

As a professional working in the autism behavioral therapy space, I have had the privilege of working closely with many young individuals on the autism spectrum. Over the years, I’ve encountered a significant number of them who have also expressed gender dysphoria, making a recent study published in Nature Communications particularly relevant to my line of work.

In September 2020, researchers conducted a groundbreaking study that shed light on the correlation between gender diversity and autism. Their findings indicated that transgender and gender-diverse individuals exhibited higher rates of autism compared to their cisgender peers. The study involved an analysis of data from 641,860 participants across multiple datasets, including surveys, population studies, and online questionnaires.

The results were striking. Transgender and gender-diverse individuals were found to have a 3 to 6 percent higher likelihood of being diagnosed with autism. Moreover, the study revealed that these participants scored higher in areas of sensory sensitivity and autistic traits, while scoring lower in empathetic traits. This suggests that individuals at the intersection of gender diversity and autism experience unique challenges that extend beyond the autism spectrum, often involving other psychiatric conditions that impact their daily lives.

The significance of this research cannot be understated, as it underscores the need for appropriate medical and mental health care tailored to the specific needs of transgender and gender-diverse autistic individuals. Thomas W. Frazier, Ph.D., chief science officer at Autism Speaks, emphasizes that gaining insights into this overlap is crucial to enhancing the quality of life for these individuals.

What the study also revealed was that 24 percent of gender-diverse and transgender respondents were diagnosed with autism, in contrast to just 5 percent of cisgender participants in the study. The researchers delved into formal autism diagnoses and also examined autistic traits such as hyper-recognition of patterns, sensitivity to sensory input, and levels of empathy. Moreover, they explored how transgender and gender-diverse individuals perceived their own diagnoses, with some expressing a belief in being misdiagnosed or underdiagnosed for autism.

The data not only confirmed the researchers’ expectations but also shed light on a disheartening reality. Many participants, especially those who identified as transgender and gender diverse, expressed difficulty in accessing gender identity-related medical care due to their autism diagnosis. This dilemma was further corroborated by a study published in June 2020, which found that over 35 percent of autistic LGBTQ adults had been denied medical services, despite having greater healthcare needs overall.

Beyond the intersection of autism and gender diversity, the study also highlighted a higher prevalence of other psychiatric conditions among transgender and gender-diverse individuals, including schizophrenia, ADHD, and depression. Disturbingly, it has been estimated that 30 to 50 percent of transgender teens attempt suicide, underscoring the urgent need for risk factor screening and comprehensive support for transgender, gender-diverse, and autistic teens.

As a behavioral therapist, I cannot help but be deeply moved by these findings. It is evident that current medical and mental health care for transgender and gender-diverse autistic individuals is falling short. The healthcare system must prioritize understanding and meeting the unique needs of this population to bridge the significant disparity in healthcare experiences.

Moving forward, it is imperative that researchers focus on better understanding the healthcare needs of transgender and gender-diverse autistic individuals and develop strategies to support them effectively. Medical and mental health providers must play a crucial role in fostering an inclusive and supportive environment for their patients, ensuring that they receive the care they truly deserve. By addressing these challenges head-on, we can create a more compassionate and equitable healthcare system for all.

Remembering Donald Triplett: A Celebrated Life of Resilience, Acceptance, and Unforgettable Brilliance in Autism’s History

It’s with a bittersweet twinge that I share the passing of an individual who has profoundly influenced my professional and personal journey, and the autism community at large. Donald Triplett, fondly remembered as “Case 1” in the annals of autism diagnosis, left us last Thursday at his home in the quaint city of Forest, Mississippi. At the ripe age of 89, he transitioned to the next journey, leaving behind a legacy of enlightenment, acceptance, and resilience.

Donald, or Don as we affectionately know him, battled cancer until the end, according to his dear nephew, O.B. Triplett. Yet, his spirit continues to illuminate the corridors of autism understanding and awareness. Over the years, autism diagnoses have seen a steep rise – a change from one in 110 children in 2006 to one in 36 this March, according to the CDC. The reasons remain an enigma, stirring ample debates. But one irrefutable fact is that our understanding of autism today is deeply rooted in Don’s extraordinary life journey.

Born on September 8, 1933, Don was the beloved son of a high school English teacher, Mary (McCravey) Triplett, and Beamon Triplett, a Yale Law School-educated lawyer. Early on, Don’s world seemed tangential to those around him. His interactions or lack thereof with others, his unique language use, and his repetitive behaviors were at first a mystery to those around him.

Yet within this unique realm of Don’s, he displayed skills that left everyone in awe. His remarkable mathematical prowess, his innate musicality, and the rumor that he calculated the number of bricks in his high school facade by mere glance highlighted his unique brilliance.

In a bid to understand their son better, Don’s parents sought the expertise of Dr. Leo Kanner, a renowned psychiatrist at Johns Hopkins University. Don’s parents’ persistence and Dr. Kanner’s insights changed the narrative not just for Don but for millions on the spectrum. Dr. Kanner, in his 1943 paper, outlined the characteristics of this unique condition based on observations of Don and ten other children. Don became the inaugural case, the first among many who would later find their experiences encapsulated in the term “autism spectrum disorder.”

As Don grew older, his idiosyncrasies remained, but his life took an empowering trajectory. He graduated high school, earned a degree from Millsaps College, learned to drive, secured a job at the local bank, and even traveled the globe on his own. This narrative of growth, resilience, and acceptance paints an empowering picture for all those touched by autism.

It’s impossible to ignore the role that Don’s family’s resources and societal status played in his life’s trajectory. But equally significant was the warm embrace of his hometown, Forest. This community of 3,000 made a conscious decision to welcome this unique individual, to accept him with all his eccentricities, and to celebrate his strengths. They saw beyond the autism to the person that Don was – loving, talented, and remarkably resilient.

Don leaves no immediate family behind, but a band of friends who joined him for morning coffee, neighbors who invited him for golf tournaments, and a community that stood guard over his well-being. They saw him for who he was – a math wizard, a musical savant, and their own beloved guy.

As we mourn Don’s passing, we also celebrate his life. His journey has illuminated a path for countless individuals living with autism, and for that, we remain forever grateful. His legacy remains a testament to resilience, acceptance, and the power of a supportive community. And as we carry his memory forward, we also carry his message: that each person, no matter their idiosyncrasies

Arbaclofen Shows Limited Efficacy for Social Difficulties in Children with Autism

Trials of arbaclofen for autism have produced mixed results. Although autistic children and teenagers who took the investigational drug fared no better than controls on a rating of social skills, they did show significant improvements in atypical behavior and other measures. Two clinical trials were presented at the 2023 International Society for Autism Research annual meeting in Stockholm, Sweden.

Mouse studies from the past decade have suggested that arbaclofen eases traits related to autism and other conditions, but results in people have been mixed. One of the new trials included 82 autistic children and teenagers in Canada aged 5 to 17, and the other included 122 autistic people across Europe of the same age range. At the start of both trials, participants were randomly assigned to take increasing doses (up to 20 milligrams) of arbaclofen or a placebo three times per day for 16 weeks.

Parent reports of the children’s communication in social settings, captured via the Vineland Adaptive Behavior Scales (VABS), served as the studies’ primary outcome measure. Secondary outcome measures included other parent questionnaires that assess behavioral changes as well as traits such as repetitive and atypical behaviors.

Compared with children and teenagers on a placebo, those taking arbaclofen showed significant improvements in motor skills, interactions with their peers, and atypical and repetitive behaviors, according to parent ratings. They also improved in their social and communication abilities, based on the VABS, but the results missed statistical significance.

Overall, arbaclofen was safe and well tolerated, with most common side effects being mild. In one of the trials, two 5-year-olds experienced a serious adverse event related to a loss of consciousness after taking the highest dose of arbaclofen.

Although both studies are underpowered, the researchers plan to combine data from the two studies to have a sufficiently large sample size. Arbaclofen dampens excitatory signals in the brain, which are thought to be overabundant in many forms of autism. The drug decreases autism-like behaviors in a mouse model of fragile X syndrome.

A 2016 reanalysis of Seaside’s trial data suggested that a subgroup of people with autism may benefit from arbaclofen. Responders were more likely to be verbal and have an IQ above 70. The new studies have collected additional data about the participants’ brain activity and sensory processing. Analyzing those data may provide a biomarker that predicts who is more likely to respond to arbaclofen.

From the studies’ findings, “we should conclude that we do not yet know whether arbaclofen is efficacious for social difficulties in children and adolescents with [autism],” says Jeremy Veenstra-VanderWeele, professor of developmental neuropsychiatry at Columbia University. The findings also suggest that the VABS questionnaire to evaluate social behavior was not the most sensitive measure in this trial.

Shifting Demographics: Autism Rates in Girls on the Rise

Recent data from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) revealed that the autism rate in girls has surpassed 1 percent, the highest ever recorded. This is a significant increase since the 1940s when autism was first studied, and girls with autism were often identified as having intellectual disabilities. Despite this, girls with autism are still more likely to be missed or misdiagnosed than boys.

Autism is a neurodevelopmental disorder characterized by social and communication difficulties as well as repetitive behaviors. It has long been associated with boys, but over the past decade, the proportion of girls diagnosed with it has grown. More adult women like Dr. Morénike Giwa Onaiwu are also being diagnosed, raising questions about how many young girls continue to be missed or misdiagnosed.

As behavior analysts, it is crucial to understand the early signs of autism in girls and to help identify them as soon as possible. Early identification and intervention are key to improving outcomes for children with autism.

In girls, autism can manifest differently than in boys, making it more difficult to identify. Girls with autism are more likely to camouflage their social challenges, sometimes by mimicking the behaviors of the girls around them. This makes it harder for parents, caregivers, and clinicians to recognize early signs of autism.

ABA therapy can help identify early signs of autism in girls. ABA therapists can use behavioral assessments to evaluate a child’s social, communication, and behavioral skills. These assessments can identify early signs of autism, such as not responding to their name, avoiding eye contact, not talking much, or playing on their own.

ABA therapy can also help teach social and communication skills to children with autism. ABA therapists can use evidence-based interventions to teach children with autism how to communicate their needs, make friends, and interact appropriately with others.

As the demographics of autism shift, with more girls and nonwhite children being diagnosed, it is important for behavior analysts to stay informed about the latest research and intervention strategies. With early identification and effective intervention, children with autism can improve their social, communication, and behavioral skills and lead fulfilling lives.

How AI is Bridging the Gap for Nonverbal Individuals with Motor Disabilities

Artificial intelligence (AI) has been used to bridge the communication gap for nonverbal individuals with motor disabilities who rely on computers to communicate. A team of researchers from the University of Cambridge and the University of Dundee developed a new context-aware method that reduces the number of keystrokes needed to communicate by 50% to 96%, thus increasing the efficiency of communication. This AI-assisted system is designed to provide suggestions for sentences that are contextually relevant to the user. The system uses a range of context clues such as the user’s location, time of day, or the identity of the user’s speaking partner.

Typically, nonverbal individuals with motor disabilities use speech synthesis with computers to communicate with others. However, even without a physical disability that affects typing, communication aids are too slow and error-prone for meaningful conversation. The new method, which allows users to retrieve previously typed sentences quickly, addresses this issue. As people tend to reuse the same phrases and sentences in everyday conversations, the system uses information retrieval algorithms to automatically retrieve the most relevant previous sentences based on the text typed and the context of the conversation.

The researchers used design engineering methods for the development of the system, simulating nonverbal people typing a large set of sentences from a representative sentence set. They then used information retrieval algorithms, similar to web search, to retrieve sentences based on the user’s typed words and the context. The researchers revealed that only two reasonably accurate context tags are required to provide the majority of the gain, while word-auto complete provides a positive contribution but is not essential.

The study is the first to integrate context-aware information retrieval with speech-generating devices for people with motor disabilities, demonstrating how context-sensitive AI can improve the lives of people with motor disabilities. This method gives hope for more innovative AI-infused systems that can help individuals with motor disabilities communicate better in the future.

The research paper was published at CHI 2020, and the research was funded by the Engineering and Physical Sciences Research Council.

Reference: Kristensson, P.O., Lilley, J., Black, R. and Waller, A. ‘A design engineering approach for quantitatively exploring context-aware sentence retrieval for nonspeaking individuals with motor disabilities.’ In Proceedings of the 38th ACM Conference on Human Factors in Computing Systems (CHI 2020). DOI: 10.1145/3313831.3376525

New Study Sheds Light on Genetic Differences and Age-Related Changes

Article Summary:

A study by UC Davis MIND Institute researchers reveals that brain development in individuals with autism differs from those with typical neurodevelopment. The differences are related to genes involved in inflammation, immunity response, and neural transmissions, which evolve across a person’s lifespan. The study examined the genetic differences in brain neurons of autistic individuals and compared them with neurotypical individuals. They discovered 194 significantly different genes, with many linked to brain connectivity and immune response. Additionally, the study found similarities in mRNA expressions between individuals with autism and those with Alzheimer’s disease, which may indicate an increased likelihood of neurodegenerative and cognitive decline.

Article:

A new study by UC Davis MIND Institute researchers shows that the brain development of people with autism is different from those without autism. These differences are related to genes affecting inflammation, immunity, and nerve signals. They start in childhood and change throughout a person’s life.

In the U.S., about one in 44 children has autism. People with autism may behave, communicate, and learn differently from others. As they get older, they often have problems with social communication and interaction.

The scientists wanted to learn how nerve cells in the brain communicate and how this is affected by age and autism. They looked at the genetic differences in brain nerve cells of people with autism at different ages and compared them to people without autism.

Previous research showed that certain brain areas have too many nerve cells at first, but these cells later decrease in number and lose connections as people with autism get older.

The researchers studied brain tissue from 27 people with autism and 32 people without autism, who were between 2 and 73 years old. They focused on a part of the brain called the superior temporal gyrus (STG), which is responsible for processing sound and language and understanding social situations.

The study found 194 genes that were different in the brains of people with autism. Some of these genes were linked to how nerve cells communicate and how the body responds to stress and inflammation. The researchers also discovered that the levels of certain genes changed with age in people with autism, affecting brain function and inflammation.

One important chemical messenger in the brain, called GABA, helps to slow down the brain and control overactivity. The study found that the genes involved in making GABA changed with age in the brains of people with autism.

Furthermore, the study found similarities between people with autism and those with Alzheimer’s disease, which could be related to a higher risk of brain and memory problems.

Understanding these changes in the brains of people with autism can help develop better treatments and interventions for different stages of life.