Null and Noteworthy: Oxytocin, parental coaching, consequence assessments | Spectrum
Illustration by Laurène Boglio
The May issue of this newsletter drew some important feedback from Jacqueline Crawley, Professor Emeritus at the University of California, Davis, MIND Institute. In an email to Spectrum, she pointed out that many published results in autism research cannot be replicated but remain popular after an initial splash in the literature – a topic that will be picked up by an article below.
Crawley also suggested that autism researchers who work with animals repeat their experiments with a full, independent cohort before submitting their results for publication. “Both replication and non-replication data are very informative,” wrote Crawley. “Replications are particularly necessary in autism research, where the plethora of excellent hypotheses about causes and treatments require rigorous testing.”
The papers presented here aim at such rigor by posting replications or null results. If you like the newsletter, please take a minute to confirm your subscription. Thank you, as always, for your feedback and please keep sending your thoughts, ideas, interesting studies and cat photos to email@example.com.
Pain in Pregnancy:
In 2018, a meta-analysis found that the children of women who took the common pain reliever paracetamol during pregnancy were at increased risk of autism or attention deficit hyperactivity disorder (ADHD). However, the researchers cautioned that the seven studies they examined could be biased in several ways, making the results difficult to interpret. A new review of nearly 74,000 women and their children from six European cohorts confirmed the link and also found that boys who were exposed to the pain medication in utero were slightly more likely than girls to develop autism or ADHD. Pregnant women shouldn’t necessarily avoid acetaminophen, the investigators write, but they and their partners should be better educated about the possible effects of the drug.
The results were published in May in the European Journal of Epidemiology.
Educating parents is part of many approaches to helping children with autism. In ‘forward parenting’, they learn to better predict their child’s behavior, reduce the unpredictability in their child’s life, and help their child deal with unpredictability when it occurs. A pilot study conducted by the researchers who developed the predictive parenting technique compared the method to psychoeducation for the parents of 62 autistic children, half of whom are minimally verbal. The methods were equally effective in reducing emotional and behavioral problems such as aggression; However, predictive parenting was more expensive.
The results were published in May in the Journal of the American Academy of Child and Adolescent Psychiatry.
Because infants with autistic older siblings, often referred to as “babysibs,” are at increased risk of being autistic themselves, researchers often examine them looking for early signs of the disease. Changes in electroencephalographic patterns between 3 and 36 months of age can differentiate babies from controls, according to a new study. But the patterns are not associated with a later diagnosis of autism and so cannot be used to make predictions.
The results were published in Autism Research in May.
To evaluate the effectiveness of interventions in autistic people, researchers need tools that can accurately measure changes in behavior. One such tool is the Child Behavior Checklist, which, in addition to social challenges, assesses a number of psychological and behavioral problems such as anxiety, depression, attention difficulties and aggression. A new study attempted to replicate a 2010 study of the effectiveness of the checklist in screening school-age children. The researchers found that the results in four of the categories in the checklist could help doctors differentiate between autistic and non-autistic children. And results in two areas improved after an intervention on social skills, suggesting that the tool can also be useful as a measure of results.
The results were published in May in the Journal of Autism and Developmental Disorders.
Scientists have hailed the neurotransmitter oxytocin as a potential treatment for the social challenges of autism. But oxytocin has also been weakly linked to an increased likelihood of autism in children exposed prenatally; the hormone is often used to induce labor and reduce bleeding during labor. A new study looked at the link in 1.6 million babies born in Denmark and Finland between 1991 and 2010, more than a third of whom were given oxytocin. The links between oxytocin and both autism and ADHD disappeared after the researchers cleaned up confounders and a comment on the study gave a final verdict: “case closed.”
The findings and comments were published in the International Journal of Epidemiology in April.
- In a self-replication, the researchers confirmed that the creatively abbreviated intervention “Creating Habits That Accelerate the Academic Language of Students” (CHAAOS) helps middle school students with disabilities improve their vocabulary and understanding.
- A review of mitochondrial function in animal models of autism, depression, bipolar disorder, and schizophrenia found some common energetic differences in the brain, but the researchers do not conclude “because of the lack of zero results in the literature studied, suggesting a bias in reporting . ”
- Neonates exposed to opioids prenatally are not at increased risk of neurodevelopmental disorders, although higher doses and prolonged use may increase these chances.
- A follow-up to a pilot study of sulforaphane, a compound found in broccoli and other cruciferous vegetables, found no significant differences in autism characteristics between autistic children who took the compound and those who took a placebo, although the green appeared to be irritable and Hyperactivity seemed to help.
- A study inspired by Greta Thunberg, leader of autistic climate change, found that traits of autism are not linked to beliefs about climate change and the environment; Thunberg blamed her autism in part for her intense focus and thinking outside the box about climate change.
- A comment on studies on the effectiveness of autism interventions suggests that researchers should work to improve interventions and stop interpreting zero or small effects as an indication of the inability of autistic people to transfer what they have learned to new contexts.
- Finally, an analysis of three projects attempting to replicate findings in psychology, business, and general science journals found that researchers are more likely than those to cite unreplicated articles, and that few citations reveal an article’s failure to replicate. Investigators mainly blame the magazines’ policies, which favor “more interesting” results.
Quote this article: https://doi.org/10.53053/EBYN9412