Local News

Autism Genetic Research May Lead To Better Treatment

Posted October 24, 2002

— Autism is more than just one disorder, it is a spectrum with ranging degrees of severity.

Doctors at Duke say that solving the genetic mystery of


could be the key to finding better treatments.

Louis Aiello, 17, was diagnosed with

Asperger's disorder

, a mild form of autism, in the second grade.

Evenings are homework time, but Aiello said he works harder than most kids his age.

"I know that I'm different from other people. I've known that for a long while," said Aiello.

Aiello's mother, Marilyn, said he was an over-achiever as a baby.

"We had a youngster, who at the age of nine and a half months, could walk. Shortly thereafter, he learned how to run," she said.

But as he got older, he got into everything, according to his parents.

"He couldn't seem to hold attention on anything," said his father, Walter Aiello.

They said Louis also had trouble socializing, especially in school.

"They usually have better adaptive abilities and they don't have the language delay, but they do have the social disability that you see with autism," said Margaret Pericak-Vance, Ph.D., Director of

The Center for Human Genetics

at Duke University Medical Center.

Scientists at The Center for Human Genetics are focusing on the genetic cause of the condition. They recently received a grant to study the genetics of Asperger's.

"We know that there is a significant genetic component," Pericak-Vance said.

Duke researchers want to identify whether the same genes that cause autism also trigger Asperger's.

"If that's true, then what differentiates between having Asperger's and autism? Is there a different combination of genes or different forms of genes?" said Pericak-Vance.

Doctors believe the answers may lead to better tools for diagnosing and treating autism disorders.

"To take away the parts of it that is difficult to deal with for the parents and the patients," Pericak-Vance said.

With medication and therapy, Aiello's parents said he is adjusting to high school, but it is not easy.

"When you get home, I'm quite tired but I have to do my homework," Aiello said.

Aiello currently has a 3.7 GPA and plans to study engineering in college next year.


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