Expanding our Understanding of Autism: Beyond Genetics to Whole Systems Approaches

June 21, 2012
1:00 pm US Eastern Time

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When autism was first described in the 1940s, it was thought to be unusual, if not rare, and perhaps attributable to poor maternal parenting skills. During the decades that followed, genetic heritability became a more popular explanation, and with the advent of techniques for analyzing the genome, the search for "autism  genes" is widespread. Meanwhile, according to the CDC, the prevalence of autism continues to increase—now one out of 88 American children has some disorder on the autism spectrum. In recent years, neuroscientists have undertaken a fundamental re-examination of autism spectrum disorders, not denying a genetic contribution but recognizing that complex gene-environment interactions are almost certainly involved in the origins of what appears to be a heterogeneous mixture of conditions. Moreover, while many people focus almost exclusively on neurobehavioral features of autism spectrum disorders, others increasingly recognize additional manifestations, for example in the immune and gastrointestinal systems.

On this call Dr. Martha Herbert, author of The Autism Revolution, highlighted salient points related to autism and environmental health. She was joined by Dr. Phil Landrigan, who addressed his recent commentary in Environmental Health News on environmental contributors to autism and learning disabilities, and Dr. Marshalyn Yeargin-Allsopp from the CDC who spoke to autism prevalence and trends over time as they have been tracked by the CDC.

The call was moderated by Elise Miller, MEd, director, CHE.