Autism spectrum disorders (ASD) are neurologically based and many children with ASD have neurological abnormalities. About 30% of children with ASD suffer from seizure disorders such as epilepsy. There is also a significant genetic component to the development of ASD (you can find more about the research in this area on the program pages for the Autism Genetic Resource Exchange and Autism Genome Project, both programs of Autism Speaks). In addition, metabolic abnormalities are sometimes identified in children with ASD. Metabolic issues relate to how the body processes and uses the materials it needs at the molecular level, for example, in the break-down of fats and proteins to get energy.
The ATN's Neurology-Genetics-Metabolics Committee is involved with these interrelated issues and has been focused on compiling guidelines to inform pediatricians about when certain diagnostic tests are necessary. The committee has drafted flow diagrams indicating red flags for the use of the electroencephalogram (EEG) to measure the brain's electrical activity, and magnetic resonance imaging (MRI) to look at the brain itself. ATN sites including Lurie Center for Autism, Columbia University Medical Center and Bloorview Kids Rehab/Surrey Place Centre (Toronto) began piloting the EEG algorithm in early 2010. As with the pilot tests of all the algorithms in development, this pilot phase will test the algorithm's feasibility and data from the ATN Registry will be analyzed to assess its effectiveness. The committee is also currently drafting an algorithm to note red flags indicating that a genetics-metabolic work-up might be warranted.
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