World Autism Awareness Day is April 2nd this year. Anyone involved in autism research or anyone who knows people affected by the disorder, should have a lot more hope than in the past. There have been a number of exciting developments that may help science come closer to understanding autism, and perhaps eventually coming up with some effective treatments.
One thing still has not changed: the occurrence of autism disorders is still on the rise. This is true in virtually every country and region throughout the world, especially North America. What is being done to stop the increase of autism disorders?
What Is Autism?
Autism is considered a complex developmental disability that most likely presents itself during the first three years of life. This is a neurological disorder that effects normal brain function in such a way that the development of communication and social interaction skills may not form correctly. This leads to a wide range of issues in these areas including verbal and non-verbal communication, social interactions, and even activities that include an element of play. Some of the current research now indicates that people with autism may share genetic traits with those who have ADHD, bipolar disorder, schizophrenia, and/or clinical depression.
Genetic Mutations Leading To Autism:
Researchers from The Scripps Research Institute have reported that they are discovering how genetic mutations are responsible for some of the behavioral and cognitive issues found in people with autism disorders. It is believed that a mutation in SynGAP1, a gene which encodes a protein involved in suppressing specific signaling pathways in the brain, changes how the brain circuits organize themselves while developing over the course of a young person’s first years.
This gene itself is already estimated to have caused disabilities in approximately 1 million people around the world. Researchers are now thinking that this is directly involved in raising the risk for autism disorders. These autism-causing mutations generally affect synapses in the brain and many children with behavioral and intellectual issues (like those associated with autism), are thought to carry mutations in key neurodevelopmental genes.
Males At Greater Risk Than Females:
Another interesting piece of research that has come to the forefront recently is that male children appear to have a higher risk of developing autism disorders than females. Although the specific reasons for this are still a bit unclear, it seems that the female brain has inherently more protection. This means that for a female to develop autism, she would need to have a more extreme level of genetic mutation. Studies suggest that there is a different level of ‘robustness’ in brain development between males and females in their early developing stages, and females have a clear advantage.
More Linked Genes:
A Canadian team made headlines recently when they were able to identify several new genetic mutations that appear to be linked to autism disorders. They used a method known as whole genome sequencing, which essentially analyzes the entire DNA code of affected individuals. The researchers think that they are the first team to have used this method to get a closer, more in-depth look, at the genetic alterations associated with autism disorders.
A Hopeful Future:
Autism researchers are clearly making headway into figuring out the causes of the disorder. As we approach Autism Awareness Day this year, we should reflect on these major accomplishments. As research continues, our understanding of these autism disorders should continue to increase…and we can move closer to treatments and a possible cure.
Written by Jen Ellis of Labroots, who wants to help connect the science world bysharing current science news.