Combination of early detection, timely treatment hold promise for autism

April 02, 2007

Emerging genetic research may help scientists recognize children with autism at a younger and potentially treatable age, according to an editorial in the April issue of Archives of Pediatrics & Adolescent Medicine, one of the JAMA/Archives journals. The issue is devoted to studies of autism spectrum disorders.

Children and adults with autism, a chronic developmental disorder, have difficulty with social and language skills and often display repetitive behaviors, according to background information in the articles. Symptoms usually appear by age 3. Much progress has been made in understanding autism and related conditions--known collectively as autism spectrum disorders--in the past 15 years. Still, significant mystery continues to surround its risk factors and possible causes, presenting challenges to scientists working to develop effective treatments.

"As autism susceptibility genes are discovered, the hope is that such risk genes--in combination with other behavioral, electrophysiologic and magnetic resonance imaging indices--might allow for very early identification of infants at risk for autism, thus offering the opportunity to prevent the full-blown syndrome," writes Geraldine Dawson, Ph.D., of the Autism Center at the University of Washington, Seattle. "In the meantime, behavioral interventions that are appropriate for very young children with autism are becoming increasingly sophisticated and effective, at least for a substantial subgroup of children with this disorder."

"Thus, a combination of very early identification and early behavioral intervention holds promise for significantly altering the course of brain and behavioral development and outcome in individuals with autism," she continues.

The autism theme issue of the journal "highlights new approaches to the early identification and treatment of autism, and the associated financial and emotional costs to families and society," Dr. Dawson writes. Papers published in the issue find that: The findings of the last two studies highlight the need for improved assistance to families dealing with this condition, write David J. Schonfeld, M.D., and Patty Manning-Courtney, M.D., of the Cincinnati Children's Hospital Medical Center, Ohio, in a second editorial. "While the next decade holds much promise for a better understanding of autism etiology and treatment, there is much to be done today at every level of health care and throughout our society to identify children with autism spectrum disorders early in their development so that we can provide ready access to needed services and support for their families," they conclude.
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(Arch Pediatr Adolesc Med. 2007;161:411-412, 334-340, 326-333, 350-355, 363-368, 412-413. Available pre-embargo to the media at www.jamamedia.org.)

Editor's Note: Please see the articles for additional information, including other authors, author contributions and affiliations, financial disclosures, funding and support, etc.

PLEASE NOTE: In conjunction with the release of the Archives of Pediatrics & Adolescent Medicine theme issue on autism spectrum disorders, radio actualities from two of the researchers and an audio news story featuring the journal editor, Frederick Rivara, M.D., M.P.H., will be available in mp3 format on www.jamamedia.org at 3 p.m. CT on Monday, April 2. To contact Dr. Rivara, call Clare Hagerty at 206-685-1323.

The JAMA Network Journals

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