Research takes time but, at the Autism Research Trust, we are beginning to see results from some of the projects that we have funded in previous years. Last year, we awarded funding to the Autism Research Centre which resulted being cited in 16 scientific articles, published in high quality peer reviewed journals and across a wide variety of topics in autism.

If you would like to help us fund more ground-breaking research, please consider donating today. Thank you.

1.   Co-occurrence of autism and ADHD

Bethlehem et al., (2017)

Using images of the brain, scientists showed how commonly autism and ADHD co-occur with one another. ADHD is another name for attention deficit/hyperactivity disorder.

They suggested that a more integrated approach between the two conditions should be taken in future research because of this.

2.   The genetic basis of empathy

Warrier et al., (2018)

Genome-wise association studies (GWAS) are a method used to identify links between genes and human traits. Data is collected to find common genetic variants in people with and without a certain trait.

Using this method, scientists looked at empathy, and whether there is an underlying genetic basis. They found four significant genetic correlations with the test for empathy, psychiatric conditions and psychological traits; autism, anorexia nervosa, schizophrenia and extraversion.

3.   Autism and Borderline Personality Disorder often overlap

Dudas et al., (2017)

Researchers found that there is an overlap in the behaviour traits of people diagnosed with Borderline Personality Disorder (BPD) and autism. This means that many people could be being diagnosed incorrectly, which can lead to a lack of proper support.

The overlap is in both social behaviour and in systemizing traits, in other words, a person’s drive to find logical patterns and rules in the world. This is a fascinating finding which tells us something about the difficulties that people with these conditions have, as well as their strengths.

4.   Looking into systemizing

Baron-Cohen and Lombardo (2017)

Also on the topic of systemizing, researchers set out some ideas to improve our understanding of how systemizing in the brain works.

They suggested future research topics, such as:

  • why systemizing may be higher in autistic individuals,
  • how systemizing manifests differently in people, and
  • the link between systemizing and obsessions in autistic people.

5.   Masking autistic characteristics and the link with mental health 

Hull et al., (2017)

Scientists examined how autistic people might camouflage their autistic characteristics in social situations. This is an extremely important topic as 'camouflaging' or 'masking' can prevent or delay diagnosis and impact quality of life and long-term outcomes.

The researchers found that there are two key motivations for camouflaging:

  • assimilation and connection with peers,
  • wanting to avoid discrimination and negative responses from others.

They also found that the consequences of camouflaging can be exhaustion and anxiety, which can lead to mental health issues.

A suggestion from the researchers is that to make school and workplaces more accessible to autistic individuals, schools and employers need to understand that they might need time alone to recover from the effects of exhaustion. 

6.   The link between autism, empathy and other conditions

Warrier et al., (2017)

Difficulty in cognitive empathy has been identified as a trait of autism, and of other psychiatric conditions such as schizophrenia and anorexia nervosa. So researchers wanted to understand the genetic risk factors that affect cognitive empathy and how they relate to other psychiatric conditions.

This was a large study which used genetic information from over 88,000 individuals and a test called 'Reading the Mind in the Eyes' where participants guess the mood or emotion of a person based on a photo of their eyes only.

The researchers found that:

  • women, on average, scored higher than men at the test, meaning that they are generally better at reading other people’s thoughts and feelings.
  • in women alone, cognitive empathy is associated with a specific gene in chromosome 3 
  • in women alone, genetic variations that are linked to performance on the Eyes Test, also increase their risk of certain psychiatric conditions such as schizophrenia and anorexia nervosa.

7.   Stem cells

Adhya et al., (2017)

Scientists issued a paper explaining why the use of stem cells in research is important.

They explain that although animal based models have been used to research the effects of steroids on the brain, the use of induced pluripotent stem cells (iPSCs) is a vital avenue of study, reviewing the important role steroids play in growth, development and sexual differentiation.


You can read more about our year of impact and achievements and if you would like to help fund more research like this, please consider donating today.