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Family Matters Issue #3: Autistic brains, new screening tools, and sensory-friendly park days

Beaming Health Family Matters Issue #3

Updated: August 11, 2023 · 5 Minute Read

Amy Gong

Reviewed by:

Amy Gong, Neurodiversity Advocate

Highlights

  • Brain differences detected in autistic boys and girls
  • Researcher seeks involvement of autistic people in development and implementation of future studies
  • Police force launches autism awareness program
  • A teen explains what it’s like to be autistic
  • A recent study of autistic college students found that those who were diagnosed as children felt happier about their lives than those who were diagnosed when they were older

This issue was originally sent to our subscribers on July 27, 2022. Sign up for our newsletters here!

 

Artwork by Alden, 6, son of autistic writer Fionna Lane

 

 

Welcome to Family Matters, a newsletter covering the autism space and the best resources to support what matters most: your family. 

 

News

The latest news includes better programs, medical services, and representation for the autistic community. 

A Utah police force launches a new program aimed at preventing misunderstandings and miscommunication between police and the neurodivergent population. Six Flags America in Bowie, Maryland obtains an autism-friendly certification, planning sensory-friendly park days. A researcher at George Mason University is working to foster more objective autism evaluations by seeking the input of autistic people in the research process. For documentary lovers, a movie about an autistic fashion designer, Let Me Be Me, is available to rent on Youtube, AppleTV and Amazon Prime. Finally, an autistic teen lands a teaching job and finds his purpose.

 

Research

Brain differences have been detected in autistic boys and girls. 

Many studies have shown that regions connected to the amygdala, a part of the brain linked to emotions and social function, are larger in autistic children (and in some cases smaller) than neurotypical children. A new study looked at different parts of the amygdala and found a difference based on sex. 

 

In autistic boys, the bilateral subgenual anterior cingulate cortex was larger than average. This area is linked to anxiety and detecting proper social behavior. In autistic girls, the left superior temporal gyrus was the most enlarged brain area. This area is linked to anxiety disorders, social perception, and communication. More research is needed to understand gender diverse identities. 

 

Choi CQ. Amygdala-linked brain areas grow differently in autism. Spectrum. Published online 2022. doi:10.53053/qvzj8294

 

A new screening tool identifies autistic boys and girls equally. 

More boys receive an autism diagnosis than girls, and there’s concern that inadequate screening tools may be a contributing factor. We need to make sure the tools we’re using to diagnose autism are accurate and don’t lead to autistic individuals “falling through the cracks” and missing out on diagnoses and early interventions. Recently, a nationwide Swedish study was able to identify autism equally in both boys and girls, bringing hope that we are getting closer to accurate screening for all regardless of sex and gender.

 

Mårland C, Nilsson T, Larsson H, Gillberg C, Lubke G, Lundström S. Measuring autism in males and females with a differential item functioning approach: Results from a nation-wide population-based study. Psychiatry Research. 2022;314:114674. doi:10.1016/j.psychres.2022.114674 

 

What’s on tv…

Netflix’s Extraordinary Attorney Woo. There are few depictions of autistic women on the screen, big or small. That’s why we think Netflix’s South Korean drama series Extraordinary Attorney Woo is important. While not autistic, Park Eun-bin, who plays Woo, carefully researched her role. This series is rated TV-14. A parent’s guide can be found here.

 

What’s on our mind…

How an autism diagnosis can change your life. A 2022 study of autistic college students found that those who were diagnosed as children felt happier about their lives than those who were diagnosed when they were older. We talked to doctors, autism experts, and families to bring you this guide on what to do if you think your child is autistic and needs an autism evaluation.

 

Oredipe T, Kofner B, Riccio A, et al. Does learning you are autistic at a younger age lead to better adult outcomes? A participatory exploration of the perspectives of autistic university students. Autism. April 2022. doi:10.1177/13623613221086700

 

What has us beaming… 

College student Ethan Lisi promotes a more inclusive world. He breaks down harmful stereotypes, normalizes common autistic behaviors, and explains how the autistic brain works in his Ted Talk. Ethan profoundly states, "my inner feelings are unlimited, but my mind only lets me express extremes or nothing."



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