Major Autism Research Study with a Focus on Non-Verbals Published

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In March of 2015, Frontiers, a community-rooted, open-access academic publisher released a new research study, Autism: The Movement Perspective, that takes an in-depth look at Autistic Spectrum Disorders (ASD) as cognitive and social disorders that, until now, have been characterized as a disruption in social interactions. In this research paper, the editors, Elizabeth B Torres and Anne M Donnellan, bring movement and its sensation to the forefront of autism research, diagnosis, and treatment, and offer an introduction to an innovative approach to studying and supporting individuals “on the spectrum.”

In an editorial about the Research Topic, the editors wrote:

“In this Research Topic we bring movement and its sensation to the forefront of autism research, diagnosis, and treatment. We gather researchers across disciplines with the unifying goal of recognizing movement and sensory disturbances as core symptoms of the disorder. We also hear confirmation from the perspective of autism self-advocates and parents. Those important sources of evidence along with the research presented in this topic demonstrate without a doubt that profound movement and sensory differences do exist in ASD and that they are quantifiable.

Typically, the diagnosis is based on subjective observational inventories describing “behaviors.” Treatment also involves the description of behaviors by pencil and paper instruments. Such hand-made scales continue to be the gold standard to track “evidence based” progress and lead to controversies without a single reliable, physical measurement. The lack of real measurement leads to unreliable and self-fulfilling predictions and outcomes. Such methods have done little to alter lifetime outcomes for most individuals with autism.”

The Research Topic explores what can be done beyond stating the obvious; how the standards of research, diagnosis, and the assessments of treatment effectiveness in autism can be improved; how we can link movements to cognitive abilities; and how we can begin to understand the individual with an ASD as a person who is, like all humans, a social being who can be an active participant in all aspects of his or her life and learning. The collection of papers in the study proposes an out-of-the-box approach to several problems in the autism spectrum to make the case that movement can be our best ally in autism, at all fronts.

The research also addresses the issue of the many individuals on the spectrum who have been perceived as “non-verbal” because they do not speak, yet can communicate through other means. In the absence of spoken language, movement research can open a door into sensorially-driven and gestural forms of communication. Movement can be used to amplify and modulate the sensory signal and help connect individuals with themselves and with their physical and social surroundings.

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