Nearly two per cent of children up to the age of 11 are diagnosed with autism, with 30 per cent of those said to have lost language and social skills over time. Of those who lose skills, a smaller proportion will experience substantial regression over a period of just weeks or months. Little is known about the causes of this severe and rapid loss of skills.
Approximately 25–30% of children with autism stop speaking after beginning to say words, often before the age of two. Some children lose social development instead of language; some lose both. Skill loss may be quite rapid, or may be slow and preceded by a lengthy period of no skill progression. The loss of skills may be accompanied by reduced social play or increased irritability. After the loss of skills, the child follows the standard pattern of autistic neurological development.
The MCRI’s Loss of Skills study will collect high quality information about children with autism or social and communication impairments consistent with autism who have substantial loss of skills. By focusing on children up to age seven, researchers hope to discover possible causes as well as describe clinical subtypes of loss of skills, and to be able to link the two.
The Loss of Skills project already uses behavioural assessments, biological samples and genetic testing to make sense of this sudden skill loss, but speech pathologist and MCRI post-doctoral research fellow Veronica Rose will help introduce neuroimaging to the project.
BioAutism has awarded Dr Rose an Integrative Fellowship, committing $100,000 over three years so that Dr Rose can gain skills in neuroimaging from another research group led by MCRI neurobiologist Dr Marc Seal.
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