Autism spectrum disorder (ASD) affects up to 200,000 kids nationwide yearly. This disorder is one that impairs the ability of a child to interact and communicate; Autism shows up early in an infant’s life, usually seen in children 1 years old and up, and is due to neurological developmental issues.
Beginning in Development
Within the brain exists two types of matter: grey and white. Grey matter consists of the cell bodies and synapses of neurons. White matter is made up of axons that connect different areas of white matter to grey matter.
One of the many found causes of Autism resides in the neurons within white matter. During normal development of infancy, there is a surge of synapse formation. This surge of growth is followed by “autophagy”: a process where cells self-destruct. However, research has shown that patients with Autism do not possess this normal pathway, thus creating a very different composition of white matter than normally developed infants. The white matter within autistic children is filled with damaged parts, clogging the pathways of normal signals within the brain. Through imaging, researchers found that white matter within autistic patients contained a much higher percentage of synapses than normally developed infants. In addition, using mouse models, researchers traced this pruning defect to a protein called mTOR. They found that when this protein is in excess, brain cells lose their ability to self-destruct effectively, but scientists have found a solution. Rapamycin eliminated mice’s autism-related behaviors, yet it may only be a temporary solution due to the instability of mice models in place of human beings.
How Autism Presents Itself
ASD will usually appear in infants, making them seem different than all other children. Children with ASD will tend to overly focus on certain objects, rarely make eye contact, and avoid typical babbling with parents. These behaviors are due to ASD children’s tendency to be socially impaired and consistently repeat behaviors.
The NIH has found that ASD causes children to be unaware of the give and take relationship, leading many ASD children to become awkward in social situations. Autistic children tend to give answers unrelated to the conversation, not respond to their name and prefer being alone. Not only this, but they tend to repeat behaviors such as flapping their arms or becoming obsessed with one particular topic.
In addition, researchers at the NIH have observed children with autism to establish a set routine to alleviate certain symptoms. Many people with autism thrive on a daily routine and the disturbance of it can lead to emotional outbursts and worsening symptoms.
The severity of these symptoms depends on the severity of ASD.
Although no gene has been identified as the cause of Autism, scientists are in search of a link between heredity and genetics. In many families, there is a certain pattern to developing Autism, and certain children are more susceptible to the disorder.
Recently, a new study, led by scientists at Cold Spring Harbor Laboratory in NY, has found that in at least half of all Autism cases, mutations causing the disorder does not trace back to either parent. Many of these mutations disable the genes that readily regulate infancy development, leading to Autism. The scientists have DNA analyzed 1,866 families affected by autism and have identified 500 genes known to increase risk and 239 genes with the greatest likelihood of causing this disorder. This shortened “priority” list will help doctors diagnose early on if an infant has autism, thereby providing a more effective treatment plan. In addition, a collection of 10,000 genome sequences from people affected by autism has been established to help others in search of the possibility.
Although these new findings don’t correlate either parent’s genes with their children, research has found that these mutations can be a cause of the parents’ age. As parents mature, so do their eggs and sperm causing a higher likelihood of mutated genes within their baby. These mutations will make the baby more susceptible to autism and many other disorders.
On Curing Autism
Currently, regarding curing ASD, many scientists and autism-related organizations have claimed both that autism can and can not be cured.
As stated before, autism can be triggered by both developmental and genetic issues; however, the keyword is “trigger.” Different environmental factors can cause autistic symptoms to develop; therefore leading many doctors to believe curing these symptoms is the solution to curing autism. In fact, one little boy named Sam has proven this method to be accurate.
Mark Hyman, MD at Cleveland Clinic, wrote a perceptive article about his journey to curing Sam of autism in little than 2 years. Sam was diagnosed with autism at 22 months leading to an array of symptoms including high levels of antibodies to gluten, causing many allergic reactions, low levels of amino acids, causing abnormal brain development, and high levels of oxidative stress, leading to inflamed synapses within brain cells. All these symptoms reflect the developmental and genetic issues within patients with ASD. Yet, Dr. Hyman managed to rid all of these symptoms from Sam’s body, and gradually, Sam’s autistic symptoms faded away.
The other side of the argument claims that since ASD is really just a collection of unfortunate symptoms, it can not be cured.
The NIH has established the basis that ASD cannot be cured but can be reduced. They have found that both educational/behavioral interventions and certain medications can reduce certain autistic symptoms. Within the interventions, professionals such as therapists can use highly structured programs to develop social and language skills. The associated disorders of ASD are OCD, anxiety, and depression. However, certain medications such as antipsychotic drugs can treat these disorders to reduce symptoms.
Current research is being done within the NIH at NINDS (National Institute of Neurological Disorders and Stroke). Both the NIH and NINDS support the ACC (Autism Coordinating Committee) through research done on brain function and development in patients with ASD.
“Brain Study Finds Evidence that Autism Involves Too Many Synapses.” Autism Speaks. 21 Aug 2014. Web. 26 May 2018.
“Genetics and Genomics.” Autism Speaks. Web. 2 June 2018.
Hyman, Mark. “Can Autism be Cured?” Dr. Hyman Blog. Web. 1 June 2018.
NIH, NINDS. “Autism Spectrum Disorder Fact Sheet.” NINDS. Web. 2 June 2018.