I agree that the study methodology should be carefully evaluated. Today I saw the study splashed across the local news front page, so it sends up flags of a clean solution to a messy problem. Autism, unfortunately, has become a catch-all label for an array of developmental disorders (for short accessible summary with references see http://www.nimh.nih.gov/publicat/autism.cfm ), and labels have political connotations.
In my personal experience I've found that school staff are eager to assign children into the autism category, often with only the briefest of evaluations. When I asked them to re-categorize my child, who was found NOT to be autistic but was diagnosed in the mild pervasive developmental delay (PDD) spectrum, the schools have refused to remove the label, claiming that funding is reduced and achievement scores are threatened if children are not clearly, if unscientifically, labeled. To my objections that PDD is an autism spectrum disorder and thus for "funding" purposes should be under the autism umbrella--that all I wanted was really a symbolic change--they agreed but responded behind their hands that "people who control the money" wouldn't be happy with the change.
So to the SftP list, if we followed the money trail from such politicization of diagnoses, where would it lead?
----- Original Message -----
From: "Ross S. Feldberg" <[log in to unmask]>
Date: Monday, February 19, 2007 1:18 pm
Subject: genetic cause for autism?
To: [log in to unmask]
> Thanks for posting this and perhaps it is an opportunity to get the
> discussion away from conspiracies and AIDS.
> I haven't had time to take a close look at the Nature Genetics paper,
> and it would certainly be wonderful if the report was true and
> significant, but after more than 30 years of behavioral genetics
> raising false hopes I would point out a few cautions before one
> this work quite yet.
> First, in order to enhance their chance of finding a genetic cause,
> investigators had to limit their cases to those in which families
> showed multiple incidences of autism. This is a perfectly reasonable
> approach, BUT we need to know what percentage of the cases of autism
> fit into this model. If only 5% of the families that have an autistic
> child have multiple autistic children you may be studying something
> that, while interesting, may only apply to a minority of the cases.
> Second - there is always the danger of using a single term to describe
> a multiplicity of illnesses. Is autism really only one condition? I
> have no idea, but one needs to be cautious in deciding if any
> information is generally applicable.
> Third - the news release mentions "interaction between several genes"
> and so far it appears that many behavioral problems stem not from the
> strong effect of a single gene (example - sickle cell anemia) but
> rather from the weak effects of multiple alleles plus pre and/or
> postnatal developmental conditions.
> I could continue with several other caveats - and while I hope the
> neurexin 1 really is a key player and that it leads to earlier
> diagnoses and perhaps even treatments, if history is any guide these
> types of announcements are too often driven by the expiration of one
> grant and the need to convince an agency to fund a renewal. I would
> love to be wrong.
> Ross Feldberg