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Individualized Medicine is the Wave of the Future for Autism Treatments

Autism spectrum disorders, World Autism Awareness Day, Autism Speaks

Because almost every disease has a genetic component, tailoring diagnosis and treatment to your unique genetic code is becoming more and more possible with every research discovery. Autism, in fact, has such variability among those affected that this condition is one of the best places to start thinking about individualized medicine.

Dr. Laura Schreibman PhD, a distinguished professor of psychology at the University of California, San Diego and the director of the UCSD Autism Intervention Research Program, notes that autism is a highly inheritable neurodevelopmental disorder. But it is also highly complex and the specific genetic sites or the mechanisms of effect have not yet been identified. She calls identifying a true cause or an environmental factor that is 100% associated with the development of an ASD “a monumental challenge,” but one where research is rapidly progressing.

A recent report by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention has found that now one in 88 American children has an autism spectrum disorder, up from a previous estimate of one in 110. Dr. Schreibman believes that the increased number of diagnosis is due to several factors. First, we have broadened the diagnostic label to include a “spectrum” of disorders. Autism is not a single disorder, and therefore it is unlikely to have just one cause. Because of this, individualized medicine in autism would be a major advantage to children receiving early diagnosis, customized treatments, and better outcomes.

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There is also a greater awareness by both the general public and by physicians. As April (Autism Awareness Month) has just passed, it is likely that more people have learned even more about autism and will have a better understanding of the symptoms and the treatments that we currently do have available. Remember that early cues to look for in infants include failure to respond to name, failure to use eye-gaze to direct attention of others, lack of interest in toys, failure to imitate, lack of interest in other people and the like.

We are better able to diagnose children at an earlier age because of the advancements in diagnostic instruments. Although most clinicians still are reluctant to give a formal autism diagnosis before age two, there are many who are monitoring children more closely and calling them “at risk” as early as 15 to 18 months. The earlier the diagnosis, the earlier the opportunity for intervention.

Recent research supports individualized treatments for autistic children. Even with our very best therapies, notes Dr. Schreibman, some children fail to respond. There are factors other than the treatment that determine outcome, including highly variable child characteristics, interaction of the specific treatment and the skills being taught, and family and cultural variables. Tailoring treatments to children should lead to an overall higher positive response. It just takes being open-minded about what is the best combination for the specific features and needs of the individual child.

Dr. Schriebman says that the best thing that parents can do if they have a child with autism is to become informed. Ask questions, expect answers, understand the treatment and look for objective evidence of its effectiveness. Be an advocate for your child and coordinate your efforts with treatment providers. Don’t fall for “snake oil” treatments out of desperation. It is unfortunate that some would take advantage of a parents cry for help; just stay positive and get support. There are many reliable resources for help including Autism Speaks and the Autism Society of America.

Source: American Psychological Association