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January 2011



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Dr Michael Fitzpatrick, author most recently of Defeating Autism: A Damaging Delusion, was invited by the Progress Educational Trust to speak at the debate ‘From Autism to Asperger’s: Disentangling the Genetics and Sociology of the Autistic Spectrum’ which took place in the UK Houses of Parliament on the evening of 20 October. His speech, in which he addresses the search for a gene for autism, is published below.

Scarcely a week goes by without the announcement of another breakthrough in research into the genetics of autism. Such studies are now commonly reported in the mainstream media as well as in scientific journals and are invariably followed by speculation about the possibilities for screening tests to detect autism in fetal life or for the development of therapeutic interventions in people with autism. The quest to discover the cause of autism through research in genetics and neuroscience – and hopes that this research will lead to a cure – have captured the imaginations of many parents of children with autism. In the US and in the UK, the charity Autism Speaks has brought parents and scientists together with the aim of raising funds and promoting research in these areas.

Yet, from the perspective of parents (like me) or jobbing family doctors (also like me), the yield from more than a decade of intensive genetic research into autism has been negligible. Just as autism manifests itself as a complex condition with a wide range of presentations, so it appears to be genetically heterogeneous, with a number of different genes on a number of different chromosomes contributing to the emergence of the disorder. Though there have been impressive discoveries, in genetics and epigenetics, and in neurophysiology, according to one leading authority, ‘in essence, we know very little about the changes in brain development and brain organisation that underlie autistic spectrum disorders’ (1).

The direction of scientific research into autism has been challenged from different directions, by groups of parents and by people with autism. Let’s take these in turn before suggesting how we might begin to move beyond the narrow focus on the quest for cause and cure.

Read in Full:  http://www.spiked-online.com/index.php/site/article/7671/

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