by Bill Deyesso
An average of one in every 1,000 children born in the United States receives a diagnosis of autism spectrum disorders before they are three years old. Autism is a class of neural development disorders that result in impaired communication skills, poor social interaction, and routine or repetitive behaviors. Diagnosis falls along a spectrum of functionality and symptoms, ranging from classic autism to Asperger syndrome, which is a high-functioning form of autism.
First diagnosed in the 1940s, a very few advances have been made in autism research in nearly 60 years. Scientists don’t know what causes autism, although they have been able to identify as many as 10 different genes associated with the disorder. There is no treatment for autism, although various therapies may help increase individual abilities and life skills. For this reason, the need for ongoing research remains necessary. I contribute to Autism Research at Children’s Hospital Boston, which oversees multiple autism research studies, including the Infant Sibling Project. This hospital aims to identify genetic markers for autism spectrum disorders, as well as phenotyping and genetics, seeking early identification of autism spectrum disorders in order to improve treatment and outcomes, in conjunction with Harvard Medical School and the Massachusetts Institute of Technology, Children’s Hospital Boston. To learn more, visit http://www.childrenshospital.org/