Home > Science > Live Webchat on the Genetics of Autism: What It Means for You

Live Webchat on the Genetics of Autism: What It Means for You

Please join us for our first “Office Hours,” tomorrow, October 27, at 12:30pm EST, with Autism Speaks Chief Science Officer Geri Dawson, PhD, and her guest host: University of Toronto’s Steve Scherer, PhD, a world pioneer in the discovery and understanding of the genes and genetic changes that predispose to autism. Drs. Dawson and Scherer welcome your questions about the emerging understanding of genetic predisposition to autism, related studies supported by Autism Speaks and how this research can lead to new therapies and insights of direct benefit to families and individuals affected by autism. We welcome your advance questions at ScienceChat@autismspeaks.org.

Stephen Scherer, PhD, director of the University of Toronto's McLaughlin Centre for Genomic Medicine

Categories: Science
  1. taffimak
    October 20, 2011 at 5:52 am

    My son was diagnosed as ‘profoundly autistic’ when he was a child and he could not speak until he was 9 or 10 yrs old. In retrospect I realised that my dad had all the classic symptoms of being within the autism spectrum, but not as severe as my son, and Dad was just regarded by everybody as very eccentric. I realise that problems in my past were because of similar symptoms, so it seems as though our family was an example of heredity autism. Although my son was denied early education because, as the letter from the Education Dept. said, ‘he was unable to receive education because of his mental disabilities’, and doctors referred to him as a ‘write-off’, in later years he attended University and graduated in computer Science. Some ‘write-off’!!

  2. Liz Godman
    October 20, 2011 at 10:35 am

    I’m so happy you are trying to figure out what Causes autism.. If you really want to put that money to work maybe you can tell me why my 9 yrs old talks great, plays sports great, cannot handle a classroom, pees and poops all over the rooms and THEY CANNOT TEACH HIM HOW TO READ AND WRITE. maybe some of that money should be going to the kids who are living with autism NOW, not what is causing it. In South Korea 1 out of 27 boys has autism. here 1 out of 67 , have autism. 23 years ago, my 1st grandson was born, got his shots and has been autistic since. so? what are the options for a 23 yr old autistis boy who if he acts silly in walking on the street or knocks on a window is ARRESTED. Arrrested for being mentally challenged. maybe some of that damn money should go to teach the police and help and people out there now? So, they are not pushing baskets homeless when they are 35 and have no where to go and no parent to take care of them? he’s 23 and has the mind of an 8 yr old. would an 8 yr old be arrested for knocking on a starbucks window?

  3. Katie Wright
    October 20, 2011 at 11:29 am

    I think it is great you are trying to have a dialogue w the public.

    Why studying genetics in isolation from environmental factors? We cannot change our genes but we can eliminate/ lessen our exposure to many environmental triggers. Please make the case for this hugely expensive work.

    • October 23, 2011 at 5:59 am

      Katie has an AMAZING point–the problem might be genetics that lead to poor detoxification systems and lessening environmental factors often is hugely important to children with autism. The practitioners who are actually working with children with autism are doing genetic testing which pinpoints the genetics that leads to an inability to process toxins in the environment. As Katie points out–you can’t change genes but you can change the environment of kids who have poor genetics. Through my work with the National Autism Association New York Chapter we have found that kids with these poor genetics can be sponges for toxins–and making changes to the environment can make a big difference for the outcome. This would be my hope and dream of this live webchat that they would at least make a few phone calls and start a dialogue with the practitioners who are treating children with Autism.

      my question is…
      CAN THE GENETIC RESEARCHERS SPEAK TO THE PRACTITIONERS WHO ARE ACTUALLY WORKING WITH CHILDREN AND DOING THIS GENETIC TESTING. SCOTT SMITH PA 732-906-9000 IN NEW JERSEY HAS AN INCREDIBLE amount of info on this and he works with kids–might the genetics researchers at least have a conversation with some of these doctors/practitioners to get some insight into how the genetics are affecting these children’s lab work?

  4. October 20, 2011 at 11:36 am

    I am interested to know if the scientists have looked at the Yasko genetic snips (like MTHFR++ or COMT++) and how many typical people have the Yasko snips and how many with autism have these snips. Also, a lot of genetic snips can be treated with vitamins so that their effects are mitigated but this is a very complex, individual undertaking. It CANNOT be done in a double blind way–I don’t think– if you are trying to address underlying biochemical pathways that aren’t working which contribute to autism you would need to KNOW which of the snips the person has. Have scientists tried to do this–to correct the underlying biochemical abnormalities caused by poor genetics in a study setting separate from a double blind drug study. It seems like there isn’t going to be one gene but multiple combinations of genes that are not working which are different for every person affected. Can the scientists start to address the fact that it isn’t going to be one gene but multiple not working genes that might be a contributing factor which is NOT causing autism (because typical people have these genes too) but might be a contributing factor? Can they begin to address the function of these genes and the pathways involved?

    • EWillis
      October 20, 2011 at 9:53 pm

      I would LOVE to know this too!

  5. Anne
    October 20, 2011 at 2:29 pm

    I know that if you have a child with Autism the chances are much greater that if you have another child that child may be Autistic as well. What are the chances though of my son with Asperger’s having children with Autism? Thanks!

  6. October 20, 2011 at 2:31 pm

    I would like to know more of this research since my son was diag. with PDD-NOS, ADHD, and Epilepsy 3 1/2. Are they going to make this avaliable in the cases of pregnancy as they do with other genetic testing? What genes do you find are causing this?

  7. K Lyon
    October 20, 2011 at 2:59 pm

    How can we prevent this in future generations? protect our grand children?
    This my question for Dr. Scherer-Thank you Kara Lyon

    Ps I have 2 with Autism one High Functioning and in College one that should be in 6th grade and is nonverbal and not potty trained-they are numbers 2 and 4 of 4 boys, numbers 1 & 3 are Nuero-typical! Please help us know how they can have a family with out anymore Autisms!

  8. Rising Star Studios
    October 20, 2011 at 3:27 pm

    I don’t see when this is – what date and time?

  9. Angy
    October 20, 2011 at 6:38 pm

    I have been lucky. My 3 children are artistic, creative, individuals who also have Aspergers. Looking at my self, and the rest of my family, I see a pattern of uniqueness that suggests that it runs rampent in both sides of my blood line. I see a lot of what my kids are going through in my own childehood and adolessants. I havenot been diagnosed yet. The public school in Oklahoma is dealing with children with spcial needs like thier obsticles are in the childes control. They don’t recognise a classic case of Aspergers that is clearly doccumented in an accessment almost 18 pages long. I am lucky that my youngest 2 have verbal delays that are milde. I am lucky that I can relate to them and we can have fun to gether. I am challenged with what to do for thier education, though. I am trying the public K12 online program. They are a bit cautious. I am also challenged by the constant re-educating them in the everyday issues of esecutive functioning, and personal hygene. I agree that there needs to be a move to educate and teach empathy about what those on the autism spectrim are going through. There also needs to be an addition in school that helps those on the spectrim to relate to, understand, and communicate effectively with other types of people than themselves. I understand that the natural observation techniques are not enough. So, what can we do? frankly I believe thier is a lot that can be done. We can do more.
    I believe that my kids and I are lucky that we all are going through life under the umbrella of Aspergers. We have incredible creativity in all subjects of ecucation, we can realate to eachother. When I understand something they don’t, I can explain it better than most. When one of them understand they will explain. We are the excentrics, the absentminded proffessors, the annoying and difficult geniouses, the people who have changed the human experiance for hundreds of thousands of years. We can do more
    So, I believe that we (the aspergers and others) have a right to the assistance we need as young people just like everyone else. The schools must change. Thier program is proper for only 25% of the population of students in the U.S.A. That is not right. We can do more.

  10. October 20, 2011 at 9:11 pm

    I think that my question is along the same line as Anne’s question. I have two children. My son who is eight years old has autism and my daughter who is six years old is typically developiong. What are the chances of my daughter having a child with autism?

    My next question is a bit more complicated or maybe I am having a challenging time on how to ask the question. Science and math were never my strength, but I will give my question a try. Is research suggesting that both parents have to have a genetic predisposition or be a carrier of a certain gene for them to have a child with autism.

  11. October 21, 2011 at 1:21 am

    When is this live chat please? I have two autistic daughters and would like to be involved but . . . when?

  12. October 21, 2011 at 4:56 am

    Thank you Kara Lyon. What an interesting and problematic question you pose. If there was a way of preventing a family without anyone being born within the autism spectrum would that mean that no geniuses like Einstein or Bill Gates would be born in the future? My own son was so extremely difficult to bring up as, although he was diagnosed as profoundly autistic, we were so lucky in that he grew up to be an, affectionate, clever and happy person. So many families are not so lucky so I just don’t know the answer but it makes one think

  13. genetic trainwreck
    October 21, 2011 at 8:38 am

    i’ve heard the genetics researchers are finding out it’s a “missing set of genes like Fragile X Syndrome. My daughter had a duplicate set of genes that control behavior, learning, hormones, steroids ( i believe that’s it) has anyone else experience this? i also had a daughter w/cystic fibrosis.

  14. genetic trainwreck
    October 21, 2011 at 8:49 am

    excuse the typo, my daughter “has” a missing set of genes, my other daughter died many yrs ago w/cystic fibrosis. i have heard of a family with children who have both autism & cystic fibrosis. is there a link here in genetics?

  15. October 21, 2011 at 8:58 am

    I have been dealing with this all by myself. My family always picks on my son. He is a good kid. He has to be reminded a but I love him. He is a High Functioning autistic 21 year old. I was in a car wreck when I was 8 months pregnant with him. Did I cause this. I have blamed myself his whole life and have been trying to make it up to him. He is testing now for school. There is a place called the lighthouse that is working on testing him so he can get his disabled G.E.D. Then he going to college. He has been there the last couple of weeks trying to get it done by the end of next month. He turns 21 and he won’t qualify after that. I just wanta know if he will be able to thrive and have a good life. I have been diagnosed with thyroid cysts. His father has been diagnosed with lukimia. I take care of both and work fulltime. I live in the keys. Is it evionmental.

  16. October 21, 2011 at 9:25 pm

    I have a three year old grandson who is severly autistic and non verbal. He hasnt always been non verbal though. When he was 18 months he could talk some.. I think I always knew he was autistic. Looking back, when he was a newborn, whenever we left the house to go to my sisters, he would cry until we got there. I always thought maybe he didnt like riding in the car. Now I know it was autism. I think the sensory problems he has today were there when he was an infant. I do not believe the vacanations had anything to do with it. I think he was born with it.

  17. October 24, 2011 at 8:35 pm

    I think this is a great idea on how will interact with the public especially those parents with autistic children. This is helpful for it involves with the problem of autism.

  18. love
    October 25, 2011 at 5:05 pm

    Have grandson diagnosed with NOS Autism who also has CGD disease diagnosed at 8 months and now 2 1/2 yrs old. Are there any comparison in genetic makeup that would cause both of these problems? How is it determined if autistic child will be verbal or non verbal?

  19. Marie Demachy Fauth
    October 26, 2011 at 9:40 pm

    I have a 8 year old son with autism. I used a private lab for genetic testings on him and the lab reports came back positive for 3 genetic mutations on 2 autism suspect genes : Shank3 gene and CNTNAP2, both inhirited from both parents , Shank3 gene : mother-CNTNAP2 : father. I think my son’s autism is cause by multiple genetic mutations on 2 genes linked to brain development and function ( maybe more). I remember reading an article of Doctor Stephen Scherer concerning the importance of genetic testing for children with autism, I listened but now who listen to me ? The situation that I am facing now is that I don’t really know who to turn to to expand my research. I know more parents who are using genetic testings on their children with autism with interesting findings but they hit a “wall” when they try to find a group of scientists or any type of structure that could welcome their children and their genetic reports. Autism genome project or IAN does not offer any department that could welcome parents like me so we are left alone with our reports. Our children are the type of children with genetic mutations only or atypical syndromes ( I mean rare syndromes), but they all have autism, and are not high functionning. We understand the importance and the meaning of autism and genetic as a cause for autism, but we don’t understand why we are not being helped enough when we try to follow this course of science. Thank you Autism Speaks.

  20. Sarah
    October 27, 2011 at 9:37 am

    I have some questions that perhaps can be sent to Dr. Scherer can answer.

    I had a chromosomal microarray DNA analyisis done on my son at the recommendation of my sons neurologist at Childrens Hospital in Boston. The results, according to the lab report, came back “normal”. Among the 60+ conditions listed on the test results was autism. I assume the lab was looking for a genetic deletion or mutation which they did not find. I wonder had they looked at the mitochondrial vs chromosomal DNA whenther they would have found mutations that lead to an inability to detoxify and/or a mitochondrial dysfunction. A disruption in the cellular energy metaolism has been found in many children with autism.

    I agree with the other posters who say that we can’t change our DNA and that environmental factors must me included. We may have a genetically vulnerable population that is at greater risk for an immune dysfunction. We need somehow screen/ identify this subset of children as early as possible which,ead to my next question.

    My questions are:

    Is the autism genome study looking at mutations in the mtDNA? Could poor detoxification or cellular energy metabolism be part of the problem?

    Is anyone looking into any mtDNA pre-screening tests for newborns or their mothers since mtDNA is inherited primarily through the mother? Could that reveal an early problem or risk?

  21. Katie Wright
    October 27, 2011 at 10:42 am

    Hi Sarah,

    We had the same genetics tests and the results were all normal my son as with the vast majority of ASD kids. Also most ASD kids w/ mito problems do not have mito disease but a dysfunction. This is almost impossible to dx until something has already gone wrong.

    There is abundant evidence that the subgroup of kids w/ mito dysfunction are poor methylators and were born w/ suboptimal detoxification abilities. Jill James, Zimmerman Jane El Dahr, Richard Deth are all well known and respected researchers who spent their careers exploring these issues. Kids who are poor methylators frequently have adverse reactions to multiple vaccines. Their immune systems are over stimulated by too many live and preserved viruses, their body cannot easily excrete the toxic adjuvants (like AL) and a horrible cycle of the immune system attacking itself begins. The first symptom of problems is repeat infections and a cognitive regression. This damage is exceedingly hard to reverse.

    Unfortunately there is no way to know any of this in advance of the damage being done. Rather than screening every baby – which would be both impractical and prohibitively expensive (I was encouraged to check out of the hospital 48 hrs after my C section when I could barely walk) we need to make vaccines safer for all children. See the Tom Jefferson article in today on PubMed. He details how current vaccine safety research is grossly inadequate.

    We also cannot wait years for potential screening tests. The best advice is look carefully into
    your family’s medical history. Is there a pattern of autoimmune disease- Parkinson, MS, Graves disease, etc…If yes than I would use a modified vaccine schedule. Go slow and play it safe.

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