Wendy Chung, a geneticist at the Simons Foundation Autism Research Initiative, shares her knowledge about the autism spectrum from a medical perspective.
In this video, Wendy Chung discusses the spectrum of disorders within the term “autism.” The term is a singular diagnosis for a wide range of disorders. While the number of reported cases is on the rise, that does not mean the disorder is occurring more often. There are a few factors contributing to this rise, one of them being the evolution of the definition of autism. Our understanding of autism, and its many forms, has widened, therefore encompassing more cases. A legislation enacted the early 90’s began the spread of educational materials and resources to those affected. The dissemination of this information fostered awareness in communities and more people, including parents, pediatricians and teachers began to recognize the characteristics of the disorder. Autism awareness was limited prior to the legislation, and there was no label to assign to those afflicted. As consciousness of autism grew, more people were diagnosed as the features were recognized.
Just as there is no set of specific autism symptoms, there is no specific of cause. In the same way that the term “autism” covers a wide range of cases, a wide range of factors can contribute to the development of autism. For some time, many people believed vaccines, or their ingredients, were the cause of autism. This has been disproven, and the doctor who made this false claim had his license revoked. Various factors contribute to autism, and many are circumstantial, like the father’s age, or exposure to valproic acid in pregnant and epileptic women. Chung’s talk centers on genes, and she explains there is no singular gene responsible for autism. In some instances, the genetic mutation seen in the DNA of autistic individuals isn’t inherited from the mother, or father, but the change occurs within the individual themselves at conception. Chung’s research estimates there are about 200-400 genes that can cause autism. This range of genes allows autism to be expressed in different ways, and leads to the wide definition of the disorder. As knowledge about autism develops, Chung acknowledges the distance researchers still need to cover. She calls everyone to action, and asks for people to use their “collective wisdom” to enrich the lives of those living with autism.