Monday, October 09, 2006

Largest US study of Autism Spectrum Disorder is under way

The largest US study ever of the causes of autism, the poorly understood developmental disability that affects more than one million Americans, is under way. The five-year, 5.9 million-dollar study will involve 2,700 children and five separate research institutes aiming to identify causes of autism spectrum disorders (ASDs) in young children, the US Centers for Disease Control and Prevention announced Friday. "We hope this national study will help us learn more about the characteristics of children with ASDs, factors associated with developmental delays, and how genes and the environment may affect child development," said CDC assistant surgeon general Jose Cordero. Autism usually does not appear in infants before the age of three, though it can be diagnosed as early as 18 months. Children who suffer from it display impaired social skills and communications abilities throughout their lives, and their families bear a substantial financial and emotional burden in caring for them. According to the Autism Society of America, the affliction has been growing rapidly at a rate of 10 percent to 17 percent a year. Between one child in 500 and one in 166 may be diagnosed with a disease on the autism spectrum, according to the CDC. The CDC study will focus on factors that might lead to autistic-type disabilities such as early infections in the child or the parents; genetic factors; abnormal hormones in the child or his parents; family histories; socio-demographic and professional factors; smoking, alcohol and drug abuse; and the mother's reproductive history. "By conducting the study in six different geographic areas across the country with diverse populations ... we hope to have a study sample that more closely represents children with ASDs," Cordero said. Also on Friday the US Food and Drug Administration approved the antipsychotic drug Risperdal for treatment of irritability in autistic children and adolescents. The Johnson and Johnson drug is also known by its generic name risperidone.