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A person's chance of being diagnosed with autism is largely genetic, according to new research from the US.
Research carried out by scientists from the Icahn School of Medicine at Mount Sinai, New York, found that people were more likely to be diagnosed with autistic spectrum disorder (ASD) if they had family members with the same condition.
Therefore, parents with traits associated with autism may want to consider seeking out speech and language therapy for their children at an early age, even before they have been diagnosed with ASD too.
Studies have shown that early intervention from speech therapists can help children with ASD to better communicate with their peers, preventing them from feeling as isolated or from falling behind at school or in other social settings.
The US research analysed several million pairs of children in total, some of whom were twins, while others were either full siblings or half-siblings. Some 14,516 of the study subjects were diagnosed with ASD and the study authors found 83 per cent of these cases were likely to be inherited due to genetic factors. In contrast, just 17 per cent of ASD diagnoses were attributed to environmental factors.
A previous study had suggested that as many as 90 per cent of autism cases could be inherited. The new extensive research shows the actual figure is not quite as high, but still strong enough for parents to consider seeking early intervention from specialists for their children if they have been diagnosed as autistic themselves.
The study authors commented: "The method initially chosen in the previous study led to a lower estimate of heritability of ASD. The current estimate, using traditional methods for defining ASD discordance and concordance, more accurately captures the role of the genetic factors in ASD.
"However, in both analyses, the heritability of ASD was high and the risk of ASD increased with increasing genetic relatedness."
Written by Martin Lambert
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