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No One Has Cracked the Code on the Cause of Autism Yet. But Genes May Play the Biggest Role
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  • One in 160 children has autism spectrum disorder (ASD), and the number of people diagnosed continues to rise globally. Doctors and scientists are still stumped at what causes autism, but it has been linked to many factors. The latest one is a study that shows autism may come from inherited genetic factors than environmental ones, such as air pollution and vaccines, or anything other than the gene’s DNA.

    Researchers analyzed data of over two million children across five countries: Denmark, Finland, Sweden, Israel, and Western Australia. They were followed up until they reached age 16. By this age, more than 22,000 of the kids had been diagnosed with autism. Health records of children with autism, including information about their parents, siblings, and cousins, gave the researchers the tools search for autism diagnoses in other family members.

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    Genes may be the most influential factor in autism 

    The study, published in JAMA Psychiatry, shows the heredity accountability for the autism diagnosis poses the most significant risk at 80%. (In the study, the percentage of risk was 87% in Israel but 51% in Finland).

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    Researchers have long suspected that genes are the most influential factor in autism. Due to its size, the study’s results “provide the strongest evidence to our knowledge to date that the majority of risk for ASD is from genetic factors.” But the genes that contribute to autism, however, is still unknown.

    “We still do not know which specific genes contribute to risk,” study author Sven Sandin, statistician and epidemiologist with the Karolinska Institutet in Sweden, told The Huffington Post. He stressed that environmental factors related to autism could still either directly or indirectly affect one’s genes.

    The World Health Organization (WHO) defines ASD as a “range of conditions characterized by some degree of impaired social behavior, communication and language, and a narrow range of interests and activities that are both unique to the individual and carried out repetitively.”

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    Preggos, parents, and pediatricians can use the data for early intervention

    Experts have also put forward the theory that autism “happens” while the baby is still in the womb. Studies linked consuming processed foods and fever or severe infection during pregnancy with the risk of autism. Other research had tied it with vitamin D deficiency and pregnancy intervals. (Click here for more pregnancy and autism associations.)

    Pregnant couples who have some family history of autism may want to consult a genetic counselor. Early interventions, as early as age 2, have been proven to help kids with autism acquire physical, emotional, and communication skills and significantly improve their quality of life.

    It’s a long way to go before researchers and scientists can pinpoint the genes associated with autism, or devise a blood test that determines who are most at risk. It’s perhaps old news that autism is in the genes, but the results of this study can redirect and fund future research to find out more.

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