NAS: Research into causes of autism must be handled responsibly

The National Autism Society has called for research into the causes of autism to be handled responsibly, after a study raised the spectre of pre-natal testing for the condition.

Research published yesterday by Cambridge University’s autism research centre identified a link between levels of testosterone in pregnant mothers and the development of autistic traits in their children.

Testing should be “responsible”

Amanda Batten, head of policy and campaigns at NAS, said while it welcomed any research into autism, findings should be handled “responsibly”. She added: “Many people with autism and their families are understandably worried about the impact genetic or pre-natal testing may have on their lives and on public perception of the condition in the future.”

However, she also said it was important to acknowledge that the research did not actually claim the findings gave the cause to autism, adding scientists were “a long way off from understanding autism”.

For the study, two hundred and thirty five women who had undergone amniocentesis when pregnant, between 1996 and 2001, were asked to answer two questionnaires designed to pick up autistic traits in their children, aged between six and ten.

Sample too small

While it found a correlation between autistic traits and levels of testosterone in amniotic fluid, researchers warned that the sample was too small to test whether there was a link between a formal diagnosis of autism and testosterone levels.

Autism, a brain condition which affects a child’s ability to interact and communicate effectively with others, affects roughly one in 100 adults.

New services

Meanwhile, NAS will use a £1.5m partnership, signed last March with the Trafigura Foundation, to appoint a case worker for its helpline to deal with care plans and placement funding, and pay for more helpline advisors and a text information line.

NAS research has revealed almost two-thirds of adults living with autism in England do not have enough support to meet their needs.

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