How Autism Arises: Multimodal Approach Toward the Biological Categorization of Autism

Autism Information

Author: University of Gothenburg
Published: 2022/12/29
Contents: Summary - Definition - Introduction - Main - Related

Synopsis: The development of autism may be easier to understand due to an explanatory model that provides new insights into how risk factors give rise to autism and why there is such variability between individuals. The new explanatory model is theoretical but simultaneously practical in application since its various components are measurable through, for example, questionnaires, genetic mapping, and psychological tests. The model proposes estimating and measuring the three factors (autistic personality, cognitive compensation, and exposure to risk factors). This makes it possible to use the model in planning research studies and interpreting their results.

Introduction

A Multimodal Approach Toward the Biological Categorization of Autism - Development of Theoretical Models, Classification Methods, and Biomarkers.

The development of autism may now become easier to understand, thanks to an explanatory model presented in a thesis from the University of Gothenburg, Sweden. This model provides new insights into how various risk factors give rise to autism and why there is such great variability between individuals.

Main Digest

Autism, a neurodevelopmental condition, affects how people perceive the world and interact and communicate with others. Among individuals with autism, there are major differences in personal traits and manifestations. The disorder is, therefore, usually described as a spectrum with numerous subtle variations.

The new explanatory model is theoretical but simultaneously practical in application since its various components are measurable through, for example, questionnaires, genetic mapping, and psychological tests. The model describes various contributing factors and how they combine to prompt an autism diagnosis and cause other neurodevelopmental conditions.

Three contributing factors

The model links three contributing factors. Together, these result in a pattern of behavior that meets the criteria for an autism diagnosis:

"The autistic personality is associated with both strengths and difficulties in cognition but does not, as such, mean that diagnostic criteria are fulfilled. Still, exposure to risk factors that inhibit people's cognitive ability may affect their capacity to tackle difficulties, which contributes to individuals being diagnosed with autism," says Darko Sarovic, physician and postdoctoral researcher at Sahlgrenska Academy, University of Gothenburg, who wrote the thesis.

Continued below image.
Autism Pyramid Model - The three factors have different weights, and jointly build up to the diagnosis of autism - Image Credit: University of Gothenburg.
Autism Pyramid Model - The three factors have different weights, and jointly build up to the diagnosis of autism - Image Credit: University of Gothenburg.
Continued...

The model makes it clear that the many different risk factors combined bring about major differences among individuals on the spectrum. The various components of the model are supported by results from previous research.

Adaptive Ability

High executive functioning skills may enable people to compensate for their impairment in such a way as to mitigate the symptoms, which reduces their risk of meeting the diagnostic criteria for autism. This may explain why, at the group level, researchers observe a lower degree of intelligence among people diagnosed with autism and other neurodevelopmental conditions. It also explains why intellectual disability is more common among these groups. Thus, the model indicates that low cognitive ability is not part of the autistic personality but, rather, a risk factor that leads to diagnostic criteria being met.

"The autistic personality is associated with various strengths. For example, parents of children with autism are overrepresented among engineers and mathematicians. The parents have probably been able to compensate for their autistic personality traits and thus have not met the criteria for an autism diagnosis. The disorder's impact has become more noticeable in their children owing, for instance, to exposure to risk factors and relatively low cognitive ability," Sarovic says.

Difference Between Girls and Boys

The diagnosis of autism is more common among boys than girls, and girls often get their diagnosis later in life. After many years of diffuse personal difficulties, some girls reach adulthood before being diagnosed.

"Girls' symptoms are often less evident to other people. It's well known that girls generally have more advanced social skills, which means they're better at compensating for their difficulties. Girls also tend to have fewer autistic traits and be less susceptible to the effects of risk factors. Accordingly, the model can help to answer questions about the gender gap," Sarovic says.

Research and Diagnostics

The model also proposes estimating and measuring the three factors (autistic personality, cognitive compensation, and exposure to risk factors). This makes it possible to use the model in planning research studies and interpreting their results.

Diagnostics is another conceivable area of ​​use. In a pilot study in which 24 participants had been diagnosed with autism, and 22 controls had not, measuring the model's three factors enabled more than 93 percent to be correctly assigned to the right category. The model can also be used to explain the inception of other neurodevelopmental disorders, such as schizophrenia.

Darko Sarovic is now a postdoctoral research fellow at Harvard Medical School in Boston, Massachusetts, while remaining affiliated with the Gillberg Neuropsychiatry Centre at the University of Gothenburg, Sweden.

Attribution/Source(s):

This quality-reviewed publication was selected for publishing by the editors of Disabled World due to its significant relevance to the disability community. Originally authored by University of Gothenburg, and published on 2022/12/29, the content may have been edited for style, clarity, or brevity. For further details or clarifications, University of Gothenburg can be contacted at gu.se/en. NOTE: Disabled World does not provide any warranties or endorsements related to this article.

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