Tuesday, July 19, 2005

The Search for the Autistic Gene

According to an article in Discover Magazine, researchers have loacted the "neighborhood" of the gene that causes autism. It's on a section of Chromosome 17 called 17q21, and they hope to find the gene itself within the next four years. The same article also cites the results of a study that found that autistic children's immune systems are somewhat weaker than usual.

As important as these findings are, they certainly won't end the debate over the causes of autism. Some claim it's comletely genetic. Some say it's completely the work of toxins such as Thimerosal, a form of mercury added to certain vaccines. Those who think it's genetic, usually think the toxin theory is a load of crap, like Kevin of Left Brain/Right Brain, for example.

A few months ago, when my niece had to be given the usual shots babies get, my sister decided not to vaccinate her. I was angery at her. I thought she was doing something totally irrational, looking for blame where there was none. "Your son is autistic because he was born that way, not because of the shots", I told her. I decided to do my own research on the internet to prove her wrong. All that I found just confused me. There's a lot of research out there, most of it says there is no connection between thimerosal and autism, some of it says the opposite. Who should I believe?

After a while, I came to the conclusion that this isn't all black and white. I think the risk of autism is genetic. If you don't have the "autism gene", you won't be autistic. But if you do have it, you won't necessarily be autistic. Contact with toxins may trigger the gene, and may effect where you'll be on the autistic spectrum. There may be additional factors.

Maybe my sister was right. It is possible these vaccines aren't dangerous for all babies, but ones related to autistic people are at risk. It's a question worth investigating.

Nephew Update: He's doing great. He's in a regular kindergarten and the kids love him. He has very few autistic features left. He's a genius, too. More on him some other time.

Note: Amazingly, I haven't mentioned my nephew (nor autism) for almost a year, and the last time I said anything about my niece was when she was born. I've barely blogged, and when I did, it was usually about politics. Now I'm back to regular blogging and also to more personal topics: like autism and my nephew.


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