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Detection and diagnosis. One of the main areas of research in recent years has focused on improving the instruments available for the early detection of the symptoms of autism, especially in at-risk populations. A greater level of awareness in clinical, school and social environments has made this task easier.
Specific treatments for the main symptoms. The main challenge for the drug-based treatment of autism is to address its main symptoms: social interaction and communication deficits, and repetitive patterns of behaviour. Consortia have been created in recent years, e.g. the Autism Biomarkers Consortium in the US and the European Autism Interventions – a Multicentre Study for Developing New Medications (EU-AIMS) in Europe, to enable collaboration between scientific researchers, the pharmaceutical industry and government regulatory bodies in an attempt to improve study designs and to identify predictors of response and specific improvement markers while taking into account the heterogeneous nature of ASD. With respect to psychological treatment, although several psychological interventions are currently available, further research is still necessary to elucidate the minimum elements required to produce significant changes in the main symptoms and to be able to predict which specific treatment will be effective in a specific patient at a given moment.
The use of technology in interventions. Applications for tablets and smart phones, as well as the use of interactive robots, have helped advance and generalise the use of therapeutic resources that were previously only available in an experimental or clinical environment. In fact a study published recently achieved very positive results in terms of improving social skills in autistic children through the use of interactive humanoid robots that help them deal with social situations.