UW News

January 3, 2006

100 families with two or more children with autism sought for genetics study

One hundred families with two or more autistic children in Washington, Oregon, Arizona, Nevada, Idaho and Alaska are needed for an on-going University of Washington study that is searching for the genetic causes of autism.

The $10.2 million study, which is also designed to find the neurobiological causes of autism and develop intervention programs to assist children with the development disorder, is funded by the National Institute of Child Health and Human Development. To be eligible families must have two or more children at least three years of age who have autism. Eligible children may be of adult age. Three hundred families around the country already are participating in the study.

Members of the research team will arrange free nearby diagnostic evaluation and testing for affected children who are selected for the genetic study. Each child’s mother or primary caregiver will be interviewed about the youngster’s development. In addition, small blood draws will be taken from all participating children, their biological mother and father and their siblings regardless of whether or not they have autism.

Recent research indicates that autism actually is a spectrum of developmental disorders, rather than a single one, said Geraldine Dawson, director of the UW’s Autism Center who is heading the study. The condition interferes with a child’s ability to communicate or relate with other people. People with autism have a restricted range of activities and interests, and about 75 percent of children with autism also have some form of mental retardation.

Dawson said recent research indicates that between 5 and 15 genes may be related to autism.

“We have expanded our genetics studies because our earlier research indicates that traits of autism can be seen in family members related to children with autism. In some cases, these relatives may only exhibit one or two traits of autism,” she said.

Because of this, the UW researchers are also looking for families who have a network of other members –aunts, uncles, cousins — who have autism, said Annette Estes, associate director of the genetics study.

Among the goals of the UW Autism Center and this study are finding genetic markers for autism and improving detection of the disorder during infancy so children and their families can be helped as soon as possible.

Parents who want more information about the study or want to enroll their families as participants should call the UW Autism Center at (800) 994-9701.


For more information, contact Dawson at (206) 543-1051 or dawson@u.washington.edu or Estes at (206) 543-7326 or estesa@u.washington.edu