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Scientific Breakthroughs Blazing a Trail for Autism Support

  • Published: 2012-10-23 (Revised/Updated 2013-06-13) : Author: Jason Tucker
  • Synopsis: Boston Childrens Hospital believe they have found a way to precisely identify autism traits in children as young as two years old.

With more than half a million people currently diagnosed with autism here in the UK alone, we might well ask the question why more isn't being done about the researching the disease? Thankfully, a team at Boston Children's Hospital in the United States believe they have found a way to precisely identify the disease in children as young as two years old.

Autism - A complex developmental disability that causes problems with social interaction and communication. Symptoms usually start before age three and can cause delays or problems in many different skills that develop from infancy to adulthood. Different people with autism can have very different symptoms. Health care providers think of autism as a "spectrum" disorder, a group of disorders with similar features. One person may have mild symptoms, while another may have serious symptoms. But they both have an autism spectrum disorder. Currently, the autism spectrum disorder category includes: Autistic disorder (also called classic autism); Asperger syndrome; Pervasive Developmental Disorder Not Otherwise Specified (or atypical autism). In some cases, health care providers use a broader term, pervasive developmental disorder, to describe autism.

While early detection may not be as crucial as with other diseases, the benefits of catching the disease early on are still numerous, if not only to prepare the families of those involves for the likelihood of a lifestyle which is better suited to the needs of their child or sibling.

The team, headed up by Dr Frank Duffy, is using a bit of kit that most hospitals are quite familiar with to highlight specific brain patterns. The Electroencephalography (or EEG) is the recording of electrical activity along the scalp and, from this, the researchers can effectively photograph the pathways in the brain and determine whether certain parts of the brain are being used, or how they are communicating with each other.

In their testing of more than 1,000 children, the results provided a success rate of over 90% accuracy - a number that is sure to increase with further research, funding and advances in the technology itself.

The real benefit is that scientists and researchers will now be able to visually show how any range of treatments has affected the patient. They'll be able to see how effective their course of treatment has been in real time, hopefully providing one more step to finding a more effective treatment and possibly even a cure.

This, however, is not the only breakthrough to have come from the medical world in the past few months. Dr Kari Stefansson, of Decode Genetics in Iceland, claims that the age of the father is a key factor in whether or not a child's genes will mutate into displaying signs of autism.

While a father aged around 20 passes an average of 25 mutations to the child, a 40-year-old father passes on about 65. It's certainly a strong case for fathers that might wish to conceive later in life freezing their sperm in their youth to avoid the potential for disease in their offspring.

With the chance for earlier detection and now the suggestion of fewer cases actually coming to fruition, there is a very real possibility that we could see the disease reducing in numbers.

Find out more about autism support networks and help you can obtain for diagnosis at

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