Friday, July 22, 2011

Autism Spectrum Disorder--the root causes.

Hello everyone--

There is a question that lingers in the mind of everyone touched by those on the Autistic Spectrum--what causes it?  I had a fellow classmate do a pathology poster about ASD in my summer school class and she spoke of finding genetic links.  I hadn't heard that, but it got me curious.  So the former librarian kicked into full research mode, and here I present what I found.

First, I dug out some interesting nuggets from the National Institute of Health. This page lays out a lot of useful and interesting information about ASD, but the key paragraph for the purpose of digging out the root cause is here:

Current research points to brain abnormalities as the cause of AS.  Using advanced brain imaging techniques, scientists have revealed structural and functional differences in specific regions of the brains of normal versus AS children.  These defects are most likely caused by the abnormal migration of embryonic cells during fetal development that affects brain structure and “wiring” and then goes on to affect the neural circuits that control thought and behavior.  
For example, one study found a reduction of brain activity in the frontal lobe of AS children when they were asked to respond to tasks that required them to use their judgment.  Another study found differences in activity when children were asked to respond to facial expressions.  A different study investigating brain function in adults with AS revealed abnormal levels of specific proteins that correlate with obsessive and repetitive behaviors.  

The page goes on to explain that although the genetic link is obvious, as Autism tends to run in families, no specific gene has been identified as a cause. Instead, researchers believe it is probably a group of genes.  With this in hand, I continued my digging and found this highly tecnical abstract which seems to imply that they are starting to get a grasp on which genes may be involved.  This is expanded in this Nature article that is also highly technical (well over my head, I have to admit).  It is also clear when reading the links that the reason why ASD is so hard to identify, understand, and diagnose, is that it really does express itself differently in everyone who has it.  This makes logical sense.  If a group of genes is responsible, each person on the Spectrum is going to have different genes in that group tweak different ways.  The, lets say combinations, of things that can go wrong are going to be different for everyone.

What does this tell us?  First, there is a genetic link, the answer to why people have Autism is in our genes, and doesn't that makes sense?  In a technical,  biological sense, our genes are responsible for coding us, making us who we are, and if we are born with a disease or disability or a talent or genius or anything else, it is going to come down to the genes.  Which doesn't mean we will always be able to understand how it works.  How fascinating science is, that slowly, we start to get a glimpse.

One other thing to ponder--from what I read here, and what I understand, Autism in all of its many variants is not something you can cure.  It is what it is, hardwired into your brain.  Not a disease.  Just a rewiring of the brain which means we do things in different ways.  Accordingly, we don't need a cure.  What we need is knowledge, training, practice, and understanding.

God bless you all,


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