Monday, February 19, 2007

Genetic Test For Autistm Developed By Canadian Scientists

A massive international effort led by Canadian scientists has homed in on the genes behind autism - a breakthrough that could revolutionize how the mysterious and surprisingly common condition is both detected and treated.

Touting it as the most significant advance in the field in 30 years, researchers say the landmark project has put within reach a DNA test to identify children with autism early enough to counter the condition's worst effects.

"I don't think it's inconceivable that we're going to be able to prevent autism down the road," said study leader Peter Szatmari, director of the Offord Centre for Child Studies at McMaster Children's Hospital in Hamilton. "The clinical implications of this discovery are unprecedented."

Doctors currently rely on psychological tests to diagnose autism spectrum disorders in children at age 2 or 3. But a DNA test could identify those affected as babies, or perhaps even before they are born.

When children with autism are treated with the proper social conditioning, put into speech and social therapies earlier, the severity of the condition years down the road is dramatically decreased. This story is good news in that people will know and the opportunity for a better quality of life for both the parents and children are available due to this research.

Children who are diagnosed at 2, who have wealthy and/or informed parents, get these therapies. You compare that to a child who doesn't get dealt with until they are 5 or 6, and placed into special education at that point is like night and day. It's not that the other children are "cured", they just have better social and cognitive skills because of the targeted focus on their special needs.

Now, we have questions here in America about our government's willingness to pay for testing and treatment for the children who are effected by this condition, whose parents are not able to pay the thousands upon thousands of dollars needed to afford their children a more normal life.

We also have the question of if it would be proper to abort based on the diagnosis, just like is common practice with down's syndrome. Of course, when you have choice available it is your right, but autism can be mild like aspergers or quite profound, and genetic screening done during pregnancy is going to get to the point where you might need a genetics degree to be qualified to interpret the results in a truly informed fashion.

My personal choice would be not to abort because of these diagnosis, but as a liberal, I try not to ram my opinions down other people's throats and make them laws. So for me, this new genetic evidence of autism will be something that must be hashed out by our society in all it's facets. What pro-lifers attached to the Republican philosophy of economic darwinism, the subset I call the pro-birth movement, better come to grips with very quickly is that if they stay hitched to this belief, as more and more tests reveal painful, expensive, debilitating chronic conditions, there will be more abortions because of it, in a large part based on their unwillingness to consider their neighbors part of the collective family, and telling them they are on their own.