Autism is a developmental disorder that we simply don't yet know enough about. It puzzles both the parent and the professional. Amazingly, more productive research has been done on autism in the last twenty years than in the entire 200 years prior. What we know about autism is fairly basic. What we speculate about is far more wide-reaching. We wonder, often publicly and loudly, whether vaccines cause autism or the various foods we consume or even the air we breathe, infused as we believe it is with whole hosts of toxins and chemicals. The fact is that we know actually very little about this disorder.
Autism is called autism spectrum disorder. What that means is that, just like there are different shades in a visual spectrum, there are varying degrees of autism, from very mild to extremely non-communicative. We know that most children with the disorder are diagnosed quite young. Research will give figures of children as young as 18 months, but three years of age is more reasonable. We also know that children with autism tend to have communication issues, not speaking as their peers or even siblings do, having a tough time doing things we expect babies and toddlers to be able to do, like read and mimic facial expressions.
Autistic children don't interact well with others and typically don't play well with others either. There may be other symptoms as well, where parents will always admit they felt something just wasn't right, but they couldn't quite put their finger on it because their child usually looked normal and seemed normal in every other respect. We know that autism seems to be on the rise and the media is reporting what they are calling the “explosion” of autism. We know that, for many of the severest cases, autism means a lifetime of dependent care. We also know that there really is no treatment for autism.
Recently, the most amazing thing has happened, where autism and other genetic mysteries are concerned, TGen happened. TGen, a nonprofit, biomedical research institution headquarted in Arizona, is unlike any other organization previously. They do research because they want to do research and they align everyone who might be able and willing to help, without some of the typical entanglement issues of private organizations or even research universities. The result is, quite simply, an unprecedented level of research into some of the things that matter most to our society, like genetic diseases, cancer, and autism.
TGen launched a most interesting research study, enlisting the help of families who had the distinction of having two or more cases of autism in the same family, in what was called “the largest study ever conducted to find the genes associated with inherited risk for autism “(Guzzardo, 2004). Words like “cutting edge” have been used to describe TGen's work, as identifying the actual gene responsible for autism itself is step one to then, potentially, being able to alter that gene, eradicating autism forever. TGen provides a future for roughly 1 million Americans who have never had the option to consider a life without autism.
Guzzardo, J. (2004). Largest Autism Study Ever Conducted Using DNA Array Technology. Retrieved March 18, 2010, from: http://www.tgen.org/news/index.cfm?newsid=244