April is Autism Awareness Month, and the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention has announced that an estimated one in 88 children in the U.S. has some form of autism-spectrum disorder (ASD). This is an increase of 23% since 2008. The reason behind this is not clear, but it may be due, at least in part, to improved diagnosis and increased recognition that it is part of a broad spectrum of symptoms and severity.
The numbers of markers for autism are growing, including genetic biomarkers, proteins and peptides in the blood, imaging biomarkers, urinary tests and changes in the immune system. Knowledge about biomarkers is gradually opening up the biology behind autism and creating pathways to early diagnosis, and potential treatments.
Biomarkers could allow diagnosis even before symptoms are evident, which is generally around 3 years of age. As in many diseases, early treatment for children with autism can improve outcomes and early support for their families will help them to work together through difficult times. They could also pinpoint pathways that could lead to the development of new drugs to treat symptoms or even prevent the progression of the syndrome.
The research into new biomarkers and the mechanism of disease is also pointing out that early signs of autism can be seen as early as six months, further demolishing the myth that the increase in the disorder is a result of the MMR vaccine, something than unfortunately still persists in the media and the general population. Support Autism Awareness Month and support the development of more biomarkers!--Suzanne Elvidge (email)