Researchers may have a handle on the genetics of autism, but they haven’t developed medical tests to diagnose it. A new nationwide study hopes to change that.
The National Institutes of Health has tapped the University of Washington and five other institutions to find a better way of diagnosing autism in hopes that could lead to the right treatment.
Right now, diagnosing autism is a lengthy process. Specialists rely mainly on observing a child’s behavior and interactions with people.
Once autism is diagnosed, finding the right treatment that works for a child can be tricky.
“There are some interventions that work, but we don’t know exactly for whom they work,” said Raphael Bernier, clinical director of Seattle Children’s Autism Center.
“We don’t want to waste a bunch of time on interventions that aren’t going to work for a particular child, but we don’t have any good ways of determining that yet.”
Bernier said he hopes the study will help researchers identify biomarkers that are indicators of autism. Just like doctors use blood pressure as an indicator of heart disease.
“It’s a very quick, measurement," he said. "You determine, wow, OK, we’ve got elevated blood pressure here, we might be worried about cardiovascular disease, we can try a medication, we can quickly check to see if the medication is changing that blood pressure and if it’s not, scrap that medication and try something else.”
Autism spectrum disorder affects early brain development. About 1 in 68 kids has been identified somewhere on the spectrum. The sooner it’s diagnosed and treated, the better the outcomes.
Bernier and his colleagues are looking for 50 kids in Seattle to take part in the study.