A discussion of the challenges in understanding the real causes of autism from scientific perspectiv

In seeking to fully comprehend the contributing factors to autism, each new breakthrough provides a glimmer of hope that we are closer to knowing real answers, and perhaps eventually, either preventative measures or a cure for autism. Several organizations work to raise money for ongoing research and provide support services for families with autistic loved ones, as well as bringing their plight to the attention of the public, and keeping autism in the forefront of the news.

A discussion of the challenges in understanding the real causes of autism from scientific perspectiv

What Really Causes Autism? Yet millions remain unconvinced by the evidence. Flickr user alvi The US Centers for Disease Control estimate that over 30, children born this year will eventually be diagnosed with some form of autism, potentially putting them and their parents through a demanding ordeal.

In its most extreme forms, autism is a debilitating condition that impairs or completely inhibits language development, and causes uncontrolled outbursts and repetitive behaviors like rocking, hand flapping, or head rolling.

Other children who are diagnosed with autism may have trouble communicating and reading emotions in others, but can grow up to be fully independent and have successful, challenging careers.

Because there is such variation in the symptoms of autism, most doctors now talk about autism as a spectrum of disorders: Although study results vary, research has found that as many as one percent of all US children have an ASD.

How are all those children stricken? What actually causes autism? An advertisement at the top of my search results on Google led me to an official-looking website arguing forcefully that autism is caused by minute quantities of thimerosal found in some vaccines, despite the fact that no reputable study has ever shown a causal link between vaccines and autism.

The site contended that studies disputing the relationship between autism and vaccines containing thimerosal were poorly constructed. Yet after all that, the site offered no hard evidence supporting a causal link between vaccinations and autism!

So what do larger, rigorously constructed studies have to say about the roots of ASD? University of Michigan child psychologist Nestor Lopez Duran has been tracking the research on causes and treatment of autism for years, and last week he discussed a massive study of a population of 70, children born between andreleased this month in Pediatrics.

The study confirmed what had already been found dozens of times before, that there is no link between vaccines and autism.

A discussion of the challenges in understanding the real causes of autism from scientific perspectiv

The team of researchers in this latest study identified children with autism from the larger study group, and matched each child with autism with another three normally-developing children of similar age and background.

They then took a careful look at the vaccination history of all the children, and found that regardless of when vaccines were given and in what quantity, there was no association between thimerosal in the vaccines and an ASD diagnosis.

Thus over a decade of work showing no relationship between vaccines and autism was confirmed, once again. While the focus of the public debate, fueled by celebrities with axes to grind, has been on the link to vaccines, scientists have been taking a close look at genetics.

As cancer surgeon and biologist David Gorski wrote in June, the genetics of complex conditions like cancer and autism are, well, complex. Rather than a single genetic anomaly causing a problem, it seems more likely that a large set of factors would combine to cause ASD.

Gorski and computational biologist Grant Jacobs explained a study by a vast team of researchers led by Dalila Pinto and published in Nature in June. The researchers analyzed the genomes of over 3, children, 1, of whom had been diagnosed with an ASD.

They found that the genomes of kids with ASD showed significant differences from the developmentally normal kids. They also developed a plausible model of how ASD could arise in these affected children.

Although the details will probably take many years to work out, children with ASD had more copy number variations CNVs —duplicates or missing copies of portions of the genome—than others.

The CNVs occurred in portions of the genome associated with cell migration and adhesion, which Gorski says may influence the development of neural connections in the brain. Certainly the research pointing to a genetic cause for ASD is much stronger than any link between thimerosal in vaccines and the disorder.

Some of the answer may come from cognitive biases. Consider this contrived-yet-classic example: You work in a switch house for a commuter rail company.

Supporting students with autism in the classroom: what teachers need to know

A train car is rushing out of control towards five workers on the tracks. In both cases, the workers face certain death. Would you press the button?

You can save them by pushing a large man off the bridge; his body will stop the train and save the workers, but he would die in the process. Would you do it? More on Autism from ResearchBlogging. Could autism be related to diet or gut disorders? Michelle Dawson explains why we should be skeptical about so-called autism cures.

Most people in the Western world would say yes to the first question, and no to the second. As Sam Harris argues in his new book The Moral Landscape, we have a bias against sins of commission rather than sins of omission.Although hardly the primary agent in the story, litigation has without doubt fueled the polarization of the debate and further obscured scientific testimony through the promotion of expert witnesses dissenting from the IOM position Today, the mercury–autism hypothesis continues to be accepted widely among the parents of autistic children.

The search for autism biomarkers in the laboratory is an important research endeavour that is fraught with many challenges, yet the translation of such findings into the clinic may be the real challenge and requires the investigation of large, well-characterized sample cohorts with appropriate controls.

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Authors affiliations

STUDY. PLAY. behaviorism. The scientific study of observable behavior.


Acknowledgement of study participants that they understand what their participation will entail. choosing the right research design or type of scientific study .

The study was published in the journal Scientific Reports. "Our study provides evidence that the social difficulties faced by people with autism are exacerbated by how they are perceived by other. Like many parents of a child with autism, the disorder has come to dominate my life.

For 35 years I was involved with the daily experiences of caring, then with support services, schools and various strategic initiatives in the autism sector.

Autism Speaks is dedicated to promoting solutions, across the spectrum and throughout the lifespan, for the needs of individuals with autism and their families. Your tax deductible donation will support advocacy efforts, increase acceptance and understanding of the condition and advance research into better treatments.

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