Why the Focus of Autism Research Is Shifting Away From Searching for a ‘Cure’

While skilled practitioners can diagnose autism in toddlers at 18 to 24 months of age — with some research indicating there are detectable signs in babies as young as 6 months — most kids aren’t diagnosed until age 4

When autism research started to really accelerate a couple decades ago, many scientists thought finding a cure might be easier. Today, the latest science points away from a single cure, but there are ways to help autistic people lead healthier, happier lives and more that can be done to help, NBC News reports.

“I think that given the complexity and the variability of the causes and the manifestations of autism, trying to come up with a cure is probably not the right approach,” said autism researcher and psychologist Len Abbeduto, director of the University of California, Davis, MIND Institute in Sacramento.

An estimated 80 percent of autism cases involve genetic factors, and it tends to run in families, but there is no single “autism gene,” Abbeduto explained. In fact, research has shown that more than 100 genes, and maybe upwards of 1,000, may play a role. Researchers also suspect that environmental factors — such as exposures to infectious agents, pesticides or other toxins in pregnancy — may play a role.

Now, researchers have turned much of their attention to identifying autism in children as early as possible in hopes of intervening sooner with therapies to try to alter the developmental trajectory of their young brains. 

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