Genetic Autism Test Can Provide Early Detection

By Amir Khan on September 14, 2012 11:27 AM EDT

Autism
An autistic child looks out from behind a chair at the Consulting Centre for Autism in Amman, March 30, 2010, one of the few places in the country that helps children with the condition. (Photo: Reuters)

A new genetic test for autism may be able to identify the disease earlier than ever before, allowing for early intervention techniques to begin sooner as well, according to a new study, published in the journal Molecular Psychiatry.

Researchers looked at more than 3,000 people with autism and identified 237 genetic markers and 146 genes that were linked to autism. By measuring these genetic factors, researchers said it may be possible to predict who will develop autism.

"This test could assist in the early detection of the condition in babies and children and help in the early management of those who become diagnosed," Stan Skafidas, study author, told Reuters.

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The test correctly predicted autism in 70 percent of cases, making it a viable method, researchers said.

"Early identification of risk means we can provide interventions to improve overall functioning for those affected, including families," Renee Testa, a clinical neuropsychologist who was not involved in the study, said, according to Reuters.

Autism is a development disorder characterized by impaired social and communication skills. Autistic children often have poor social skills, a delay in learning to talk, limited interests in activities and engage in repetitive behaviors, according to the Mayo Clinic.

Autism is typically diagnosed around 3 years of age, but symptoms can be seen as early as 16-months-old. Early intervention consists of therapy to help children walk, talk and interact with others before an official diagnosis is made.

Autism rates have skyrocketed since 2002, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. In 2002, 1-in-156 children were diagnosed with autism. In 2008, 1-in-88 children were diagnosed, an increase of 78 percent.

The cause of autism is not known, but having a sibling with autism raises the risk. In addition, scientists think there is a genetic factor to the condition.

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