A recent AP article highlights newly published research that takes one more step toward unraveling the mystery of autism. The Harvard study, published in the July 11, 2008 issue of Science, indicates that six genes are key pieces in the puzzle.
Interestingly, the researchers described the genes as being stuck in an “off” position, and commented that focused therapeutic interventions might switch the genes “on.”
The study confirmed that each individual with autism has a unique, custom set of gene defects. This customized mix could account for the vast spectrum of autism and the marked differences in the abilities and deficits encountered by each individual, contrasts seen even in siblings and twins.
The six implicated genes in the Harvard study are all part of a network in the brain where neurological synapses are formed with new experiences. Autism happens when the brain cannot form those connections because some genes are turned “off.” Dr. Christopher Walsh, leader of the research team, commented that discovery of the synaptic connection of genes in autism suggests we need to develop therapies and strategies to turn those switches to the “on” position.
As a music therapist, I have seen numerous “ah-ha” moments with individuals with autism when it seems as if something has flipped a switch to turn on the light. Those experiences make the findings of Walsh’s Harvard study very interesting. Maybe participating in active music making is one strategy that activates those genes and turns on the switches. This is, of course, just conjecture on my part, but I eager to see the next step in gene research.
Meanwhile, it seems to me that the findings of this gene study certainly confirm the wisdom of purposefully providing enriching learning experiences to help keep the possibilities of “turning on a switch” in the forefront. Frantic efforts would be counterproductive, but patient and systematic work will, at the least, help a person take steps forward and enrich their daily lives.
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I am Cathy Knoll, a long-time friend of dozens of individuals with autism, a board certified music therapist, and host of daily podcasts and posts on http://FAQautism.com. Please join the conversation. Just send a Seemic reply video or click on the Comments button or send an e-mail to talk@FAQautism