Early diagnosis of autism can be crucial
TheStar.com – Opinion/Editorials – Genome research at Toronto’s Hospital for Sick Children that could lead to early identification of autism should inspire the Ontario government to improve its broken system.
May 26 2014. Editor
It’s a medical advance that could have a positive impact in the lives of children with autism spectrum disorder. New research from the Hospital for Sick Children suggests that autism begins its development in the womb, a finding that should lead to earlier diagnosis.
Since many children aren’t identified with autism until the age of four, the possibility of a much quicker diagnosis means they could get started on treatment that can improve their brain functioning. With one in 68 children now affected by autism, that’s very good news.
As the Star’s Kate Allen reports, genome research has allowed scientists to identify some 100 altered genes associated with the neurodevelopmental disorder. And now, a team led by Dr. Stephen Scherer of Sick Kids’ Centre for Applied Genomics, has created a “formula” to determine which mutations are likely to lead to autism and which are not.
While it can’t prove that an unborn baby has autism, the team did come up with a statistically significant way of predicting the autism symptom risk. And that formula, says Kathryn Roeder, a statistical geneticist at Carnegie Mellon University in Pittsburgh, is a “tremendous stride forward.”
While scientists are making medical advances, the Ontario government has yet to hold up its end. Indeed, the current system is a nightmare for many parents, creating incredible stress as they try to navigate the red tape, confusion, and long waiting lists for treatment.
As the Star’s Autism Project showed, many children are forced to wait years for the treatment that could have improved their lives if only it had been offered earlier. As a result, some parents spend thousands of dollars on private therapy while others, who can’t afford it, have to wait.
A government-appointed panel of experts has been studying ways to improve the system, but numerous reports say change is desperately needed to ease this crisis.
A streamlined system and faster access to treatment is one of the issues that Ontario’s political leaders should be debating during the remaining few weeks of the provincial election campaign.
For now, at least, the research that can provide invaluable medical advances should also inspire the next premier to create a better system.
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