“Then there are people who are in the middle,” says Rock, a Baltimore mom. She counts herself in this category, as she thinks that both genes and environment likely play a part.
She has, however, more questions than answers. “I personally am still a confused parent," she explains.
So it would seem helpful that new research on autism has just discovered a possible genetic linkan alteration near a gene called semaphorin 5A, which is thought to guide the growth of brain-cell extensions essential for neuron-to-neuron communication. But for some parents, including Rock, the research is just a stepping stone to answering the million-dollar question: What causes autism?
“I don’t think they're there yet, and I don’t think that [this gene is] the answer for every single child with autism,” Rock says. “Autism’s just a set of symptoms. It doesn’t really tell you about the child or what their disease is, really.”
And that’s what the researchers say too.
“The scientific consensus now is that we’re not talking about a single disorder. We’re talking about a collection of disorders that are probably related,” says Andy Shih, PhD, the vice president of scientific affairs for Autism Speaks, a New York City–based organization that supports autism research and advocates for people with autism and their families. “The current thinking is that there could be as many as 100 genes or more involved in autism.”