What the scientific community knows about autism and Ritalin

A previous report from the Danish Cancer Society has estimated that more than one in 5 students and 6400 adults in the country are affected by autism spectrum disorder (ASD) in Denmark. The number of cases of ADHD autism and RSD among adolescents is also rising.

In response to this call the Nordic Research Council (NR) has shortened the research period allotted to ASD research in Denmark. It announced a new research project in collaboration with Anschutz Medical Campus (ANZ) and the Royal Danish Mental Institution (RDIM) in collaboration with some of the countrys leading doctors and researchers and will better understand the neuropsychological symptoms of adolescents affected by ASD.

The project is the second such study in Denmark following on from the results of the Autism Research in Adolescents (AmarMed) project funded by the National Institute for Developmental and Genetic Disorders.

With this new research project we aim to answer questions that have not been answered previously in this field and even more significantly to gain a better understanding of the clinical characteristics of different subtypes of ASD in adolescents) says Margot Karlsson Chief of the Department of Clinical and Environmental Medicine at the Nuclear Institute and INSTITUTE for Psychosomatics Nordic Research Council.

The study will focus on the neuropsychological profiles of ASD in children and adolescents aged 8 years in the COMKAGE study Familial and Systems Neuropsychiatric Disorder Study National Institutes of Health (NIH) funded between 2008 and 2019. The aim of the study is to determine whether the developmental course and anatomy are normal for autism spectrum disorder in children and adolescents. In an interview Dr. Karlsson talks to Ditte Latngsen and Statte Betz Nielsen about the new project.

Is this project your focus?

It is aimed at answering questions about the neuropsychological characteristics of psychiatric disorders or atypical epilepsy in early childhood. The researchers will compare the cognitive functioning of children with a particular psychiatric disorder to that of healthy children. The motivation and the set-up of the study are entirely within the scope of PENARE. However it will analyze whether and how Turner syndrome and a common neurodevelopmental disorder differ in their neuropsychological profiles – that is whether the children with the three disorders are more active on attention or have difficulties in changing their orientation in everyday situations for example according to the GRADE model criteria (ten etaeter etaeteri test performance in repetition-based tests).

The aim is to better define the differences that cause ADHD ASD and megalomania. We hope to determine whether these differences are caused by genetics environmental factors or psychopathology and to ascertain whether brain areas responsible for these behaviors are more or less homogeneous in the children with ADHD vs in the non-attentive children. Once we determine the brain areas and their contribution to autistic-related disorders we will also consider whether or not abnormal behaviorfinding ability is inherited a hypothesis suggested by the GRADE model. This will enable us to distinguish between an adaptation-driven ASD diagnosis in children and young people with no abnormal brain anatomyfunction versus an atypical diagnosis based on the PRIORITY model.

How did you arrive at the research goals of this new project?

Over the last years the research team has intensified efforts to study the characteristics of EEG and to do analyses of what is called the electroencephalogram (EEG) which is the tendency of the brain areas to reactivate from neural activity when the brain tells something to it. This is one of the the most promising aspects of the project since it will give us a completely different way of looking at empathy. Eg how may autistic and pervasive forms of ADHD best be explained in areas such as the brainstem for example? In previous studies we have observed increased activity in the brain but also in regions of the brain that are completely ignored by traditional neuropsychological tests.