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The largest ever genetic study into autism has identified many more new genes involved in the disorder.
Oxford researchers writing in the journal Nature hope now to establish whether genetic tests can help in making early diagnosis.
The team also say the discovery of new genes should help in the identification of drugs to combat symptoms.
… It has been known for some time that autism has a strong genetic influence – but up until now only eight or nine genes have been confirmed as playing a role.
Researchers using a new systematic analysis technique identified faults in many more regions of DNA in the 1,000 patients involved in the study. They say they might eventually find up to 300 genes which are involved.
The discovery of so many genes which all play a small part in the disease may help explain why the disorder manifests itself differently in individuals. Each person has a unique combination of faulty genes.
As someone from the UK’s autism society points out, we don’t know either what role environment plays in the onset of autism, so we are very far from a cure. But this new discovery makes it more likely that medical researchers can come up with treatments to ameliorate the devastating effects of autism.
I heard the BBC report this morning on the drive to work, and an interview with a British mother of four autistic children. She said at the outset that she would not want her children “cured.” She said people should be accepted for what they are.
Later in the interview, the question was put to her: If scientists come up with new drugs based on these findings, drugs that would help your children cope with autism, would you administer them? The woman said that she absolutely would, because her kids are already on various anti-depressants and other drugs to help them manage their lives through their autism.
There need not be a contradiction here, any more than a parent would resent and combat an attempt to devalue her deaf, blind or otherwise handicapped child, while at the same time welcoming medication or therapy that could ease the physical and emotional pain and suffering of her child. To say that you would withhold medication that would deliver your child from autism because you don’t wish to recognize that autism is a handicap is deeply cruel political correctness.
By the way, you may wish to take the Autism Quotient test developed by Dr. Simon Baron-Cohen, one of the world’s top experts in autism (and Borat’s brother, seriously) and his Cambridge University colleagues. Average score in the control group was 16.4. I scored 9, same as I scored the last time I took it, in 2008. As I wrote back then:
Most adult males score at or around 17 (out of 50); most adult females score at or around 15. A score of 35 or thereabouts is associated with Asperger’s Syndrome, the mildest form of autism. The lower your score, the more empathetic you are (this is not a moral judgment, but one that describes the way you interact with the world and process experience emotionally and psychologically).