As we continue to monitor the latest trends and findings in autism research, we’ve identified that the neurological and genetic approaches as holding the most promise to both understanding the cause of autism and finding a means to a cure, or at least a treatment regimen that can ensure that individuals with autism can lead productive and happy lives in which they are able to communicate and connect with others.
However, the pendulum swinging between the brain and genes swung heavily towards genetics this week after a Medical Research Council in the UK announced its findings from a recent study in which they found that autism is caused by one’s genetic make-up in 74-98% of cases.
Researcher Dr. Francesca Happe said that although the results were not 100% perfect, all the evidence pointed to genes playing a bigger role in autism than previously thought. According to Happe, “Our findings suggest environmental factors are smaller, which is important because some parents are concerned whether things like high pollution might be causing autism. While earlier research in the States has emphasized the role of environmental factors in causing, this most recent study points in a much different direction.”
Happe continued to say, “Some people think there might be a big environmental component because autism has become more common in recent years and it has happened too fast for genetics to be a probable cause. The main consensus now is that the rise in diagnosis has more to do with increased awareness of the condition.”
With the rate of autism diagnosis increasing to 1 in 68 children as therapists are better equipped to identify symptomatic traits, scientists are working fast to better understand the root cause of the disorder so that they can improve treatment options. Furthermore, while this study did downplay the role of the environment as being a cause of autism, the researchers also highlighted the importance of non-shared environmental influences.
In particular, what the study provided the greatest insight into was the fact that researchers found that the rate of autism was much higher in identical twins that share the same DNA. While much of the research to date has greatly indicated that genetics play a major factor in cases of autism, the research has mostly focused on individuals, which might exclude the broader population of those with more subtle manifestations.
Dr. Judith Brown, of the National Autistic Society, said, “Autism is a highly complex story of genes not only interacting with other genes, but with non-genetic factors too. This large population-based twin sample is significant because it helps us to understand much more about the role genetics play in autism and opens up the possibility of whole families gaining a better understanding of a condition they may share. However, we are still a long way from knowing what leads to autism”
Therefore, while researchers around the world will continue to explore the role genetics plays in both causing and helping to better understand autism, it’s still a long road ahead and the researchers of this most recent study emphasize the importance of parents focusing on a workable treatment plan instead of holding out hope for an overnight cure.