A series of fact sheets describing the latest research findings on autism is now available from the National Institute of Child Health and Human Development (NICHD).
"We have a strong responsibility to tell the public about the results of our intensive research programs," said Duane Alexander, M.D., Director of the NICHD and co-chair of NIH's Autism Coordinating Committee. "These fact sheets will make NICHD's autism research much more accessible to those who need it."
At least one in 500 people are affected by some form of autism, a neurodevelopmental disorder that affects early brain development, resulting in communication problems, difficulty with normal social interactions, and a tendency to repeat specific patterns of behavior. Because these symptoms and behaviors can vary greatly among patients, doctors consider autism to be a "spectrum" disorder--a group of disorders with similar features. Although there is no cure for autism yet, educational, behavioral, and drug treatments have been designed to ease specific symptoms of the condition.
Current research findings suggest that autism has a strong hereditary component. Scientists suspect the disorder is the result of a complex interaction between several different genes involved with brain signaling and development. Unidentified environmental factors are also likely to play a role.
NICHD is currently supporting a range of research to better understand autism, its causes and potential treatments. Other institutes at the National Institutes of Health are also supporting autism research. These include: the National Institute on Deafness and Other Communication Disorders, the National Institute of Mental Health, the National Institute of Neurological Disorders and Stroke, and the National Institute of Environmental Health Sciences.
"As research progresses, we want to keep the public informed of the latest autism information," said Laurence Stanford, Ph.D., a program officer with NICHD's Mental Retardation and Developmental Disabilities Branch. "Because this material is being released as a series of smaller fact sheets rather than one large one, it can be readily updated as this fast-changing field moves forward."
There are six autism-related fact sheets available:
- Autism Facts--presents a general overview of what autism is, behaviors that might indicate that a child has autism, and available treatments.
- Autism Questions and Answers for Health Care Professionals--provides answers to questions commonly asked by health care professionals about autism, including prevalence, causes, symptoms, diagnostic tools, and treatment options.
- Autism and Genes--provides a summary of current scientific research into the genetic bases of autism
- Autism and the MMR Vaccine--describes the scientific evidence surrounding the purported link between autism and vaccines as well as current research efforts directed at shedding light on this question.
- Rett Syndrome--provides an introduction to a disorder caused by a single genetic mutation; this syndrome causes autism-like symptoms in girls.
- The NICHD/NIDCD Network on the Neurobiology and Genetics of Autism: the Collaborative Programs of Excellence in Autism (CPEAs)--describes the largest single, autism-specific research effort to date and provides contact information for each of the 10 research sites involved.
More information available from the NICHD autism A-Z topic at http://www.nichd.nih.gov/health/topics/autism/ or may be ordered free of charge from the NICHD Information Resource Center:
Address: PO Box 3006, Rockville, MD 20847
Comments on the publications may be addressed to the NICHD Information Resource Center, listed above. E-mail correspondence to the Clearinghouse should list the word "Autism" in the subject line.