The past week has brought significant new information regarding Autism in the news.
First, a bit of background. In the early 80’s, when I was a senior therapist in the Young Autism Project at UCLA supervised by Dr. Ivar Lovaas, we believed the incidence of Autism to be 1-3/100,000 people. In fact, whenever I told people that I worked with Autistic students, invariably they responded, “Oh, you work with artistickids? That’s great.” Then the movie Rain Man was released. The words “Autistic” and “Autism” entered the general vocabulary, but people believed that Autistic = Savant. Although I attended high school with
a young man who has savant skills, the students receiving intensive Lovaas ABA therapy in the Young Autism Project were not savants. They did have a tremendous variation in behaviors and functioning, however, which I will address in another post.
The first news this week concerns the incidence of Autism in the general population. According to an article reported in the New York Times, Diagnosis of Autism on the Rise, in 2008, one out of every 88 children is diagnosed on the Autistic Spectrum. Just two years prior to this data, 1/110 children received the diagnosis. Now, 1/54 boys are carrying an ASD diagnosis. Is this due to better screening, or because of an increased incidence of the disorder?
The second piece of important news this week gives hope to answering that question.
Three separate research labs examining possible genetic causes of autism reported in the Journal Nature that they all independently found extremely rare “de novo mutations” which may eventually account for 20-30% of cases of autism. The studies also indicated that the age of a first time father (>35) increased the chances of having a child on the spectrum. The Wall Street Journal Blog Article Complex Genetic Mutations Contribute to Autism, Studies Say, includes useful links.
What can you do? It is likely that you either have someone in your extended family on the spectrum, or have a close friend or neighbor who does. Genetic studies are increasing at a rapid pace. Last year, I had the exciting opportunity to visit with the founders and key scientists at TGen in Arizona. They are in partnership with labs across the country in the race to sequence and find genetic issues which cause or contribute to autism. If you are interested in becoming involved in one of these studies, learn more about TGen’s Autism Research and consider enrolling your family in a research study when more spots become available at the Autism Genetic Resource Exchange.