Is it my imagination, or are we on the verge of something big?

For the last twenty years, I’ve seen quackery dressed up as science, and I’ve watched dozens of promising treatments go nowhere; however, in the last six months, I’ve noticed a different kind of scientific reporting. Am I mistaken, or are we actually learning something new about autism and the brain? I’m referring to two interesting advances: 1) the role of MRI in early autism diagnosis (research conducted at Stanford University School of Medicine) and published in Biological Psychiatry; and 2) the role of proteins in gene mutations (research conducted by the Howard Hughes Medical Institute) published in Nature Genetics earlier this year.

Although these studies are unrelated, they both study the brain to try to find objective ways to identify differences between the brain of a person with autism and the brain of a typically developing person. The first study searches for the cause whereas the second study searches for a more objective way to diagnosis autism (rather than using the traditional behavioral diagnosis).

After all these years, it is heartening to see what looks like real progress in understanding autism and the brain. Let’s hope that these two areas of inquiry eventually result in precise diagnoses and effective bio-chemical treatments.