1 in 5 kids with autistic older sibling shares the condition
By On 15 Aug, 2011 At 10:59 AM | Categorized As Health News | With 0 Comments

Siblings of kids with autism have a higher risk of being diagnosed with the disorder than previously believed, suggests a new study

The analysis of more than 600 three-year-olds with an older autistic sibling found that almost one in five of them had an autism spectrum disorder, which includes Asperger’s syndrome and similar conditions.

That suggests pediatricians need to keep an extra eye on those siblings, even as toddlers — because early interventions with therapy and extra support might help keep their symptoms to a minimum, researchers said.

“We know that the brain at young ages is more amenable to change,” said study author Wendy Stone, of the University of Washington Autism Center in Seattle.

“When children are showing signs (of autism) even before the diagnosis is official, we need to start thinking about, how can we help parents within the course of their everyday activities to promote their child’s social and emotional development?” she told Reuters Health.

The findings, she said, also show that autism rates — now estimated at about one in every 110 U.S. kids — probably aren’t going to decrease anytime soon.

Previous studies estimated that between 3 and 14 percent of autistic kids’ younger siblings also had the condition.

The analysis of more than 600 three-year-olds with an older autistic sibling found that almost one in five of them had an autism spectrum disorder, which includes Asperger’s syndrome and similar conditions.

That suggests pediatricians need to keep an extra eye on those siblings, even as toddlers — because early interventions with therapy and extra support might help keep their symptoms to a minimum, researchers said.

“We know that the brain at young ages is more amenable to change,” said study author Wendy Stone, of the University of Washington Autism Center in Seattle.

“When children are showing signs (of autism) even before the diagnosis is official, we need to start thinking about, how can we help parents within the course of their everyday activities to promote their child’s social and emotional development?” she told Reuters Health.

The findings, she said, also show that autism rates — now estimated at about one in every 110 U.S. kids — probably aren’t going to decrease anytime soon.

Previous studies estimated that between 3 and 14 percent of autistic kids’ younger siblings also had the condition.

Keely Cheslack-Postava, an autism researcher from Columbia University in New York, said that the rate of autism in siblings may be higher now because the definition of who has an autism spectrum disorder has widened to include more kids.

Still, she said, the one-in-five number “for an individual family is somewhat limited in terms of exactly what this information means,” she told Reuters Health.

Stone and her colleagues said that it’s important that parents of an autistic child have access to genetic counseling if they’re thinking of having another kid — but added that it’s hard for doctors to evaluate each family’s individual risk of having another autistic child.

What this does is “puts a much better estimate of risk in the hands of parents and clinicians, so hopefully that will help guide their decision-making more effectively,” said Zachary Warren. He’s the head of the Treatment and Research Institute for Autism Spectrum Disorders at the Vanderbilt Kennedy Center in Nashville, Tennessee — one place where kids were recruited for the study.

Cheslack-Postava, who like Warren did not work on the new report, agreed with the authors that one of the key messages to come from the findings is the importance of early intervention for at-risk siblings.

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“The most important public health implication of this higher observed recurrence risk is probably for awareness and attention to development in those children, in order to facilitate intervention as early as possible for children who could benefit from it,” she said by email.

Researchers agreed that more work needs to be done to figure out what kinds of interventions might be most helpful for kids with the first signs of autism.

The research network is funded by Autism Speaks, an organization that promotes awareness of autism and funds research into prevention and treatments.

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