SEEKING THE TRUTH
I have been worried about how long it would be before we can gain a complete understanding of autism spectrum disorders because of the differences in clinical indications among autistic individuals. Finally, it seems that someone in the scientific community gets it. The M.I.N.D. Institute (Medical Investigation of Neurodevelopmental Disorders) at the University of California, Davis announced a new project last week. The press release read, in part:
Called the Autism Phenome Project, the large-scale, longitudinal study will enroll 1,800 children ⎯ 900 with autism, 450 with developmental delay and 450 who are typically developing ⎯ who will undergo a thorough medical evaluation in addition to systematic analyses of their immune systems, brain structures and functions, genetics, environmental exposures and blood proteins. Children will be 2 to 4 years old when they begin participating in the study, and their development will continue to be evaluated over the course of several years. The first phase of the research is funded by the UC Davis M.I.N.D. Institute and philanthropic donations.
“Children with autism clearly are not all the same,” said David G. Amaral, research director of the UC Davis M.I.N.D. Institute and co-director of the project. “The tremendous variation leads us to believe that autism is a group of disorders rather than a single disorder ⎯ several autisms versus one autism. We are determined to provide the specific biomedical and behavioral criteria that accurately define distinct subtypes.”
I am not as familiar as I would like to be with the Institute. My general impression is, though , that regardless of the leanings of any individual faculty members, the M.I.N.D. Institute as a whole has shown a very balanced approach to the various controversies surrounding what many of us believe to be an epidemic. The divergent viewpoints of cognitive behaviorists and biomedical scientists have all been entertained with an apparent aim to find the truth.
Unfortunately, there are no shortcuts to the truth. Findings after several years will, frankly, come too late for many of us to make practical use of them with our children. Even so, this project, in the words of Dr. Amaral, hopes to “shorten by decades the road to discovering the causes and treatments of autism.”
Until the Phenome Project has published its findings, and perhaps afterward, the bitter arguments over causes and treatments will continue. We can only hope that the individual members of the team can lay their egos aside to keep their eyes on the prize, that their eventual findings will actually provide a true insight into ASD, and that those of us who have a stake in the answers can all lay our individual egos aside to accept the truth if the truth is indeed laid before us.