Amidst the media hubbub of the new presidential administration, autism was back in the news. Well-known vaccine skeptic Andrew Wakefield attended one of President Donald Trump's inaugural balls; Robert F. Kennedy Jr., an environmental attorney and outspoken critic of vaccines, claimed that Trump had asked him to chair a commission on "vaccine safety and scientific integrity," though seven months after those initial reports no concrete plans for such a commission have been made public. Both Wakefield and Kennedy have expressed their doubts about the safety of vaccines on the basis that they may be linked to increased incidence of autism.
For many researchers working to find the causes of autism, this is frustrating, if well-tread, rhetoric. "Regarding vaccines, the case has been closed for many years as far as the evidence is concerned," says Mayada Elsabbagh, an assistant professor of psychiatry at McGill University. Alycia Halladay, the chief science officer at the Autism Science Foundation, called the discussion about vaccines and autism a "distraction" because money spent looking into it isn't being dedicated to more pressing research questions.
In the past decade, researchers have come a long way in narrowing down which conditions may make autism more likely to develop. What they learn could lead to more sophisticated treatments for autism at its early stages, or even prevent the disorder from developing in the first place.