Every day brings reports of new autism studies, most of which are of little or no obvious value, studies which show that a group of high functioning autism subjects are very intelligent, studies which show that some families of autistic children are relatively affluent, studies which purport to define an autistic "smile" and so on.
News of a study which claims to have established, using MRI bran scans, a biomarker for autism disorders is different. An autism biomarker may have profound and immediate impact on the very definition of autism as "Socrates" of the New Republic has already mentioned in Autism Diagnosis by MRI Brain Scan. Socrates gets right to the point while introducing a quote by one of the study authors Declan Murphy of King's College London:
"In an astonishing turn of events, the study due to be published later today, may throw into chaos the process for revising the DSM V definition of Autism.To date Autism has been defined solely on the basis of behaviour - a situation that is set to change radically.
I agree with Socrates. A reliable biomarker may throw the DSM5 autism revision process into chaos. In my view the drafters of the New Autism Spectrum Disorder in the DSM5 would be wise to stay their autism revision efforts until it can be determined whether this study receives widespread acceptance in the autism research community. If the study results are deemed reliable as indicating biomarker(s) for autism disorders than the revision process should stop until the full implications of the study are determined. There seems to be little point in revising definitions of autism disorders based solely on behavioral characteristics just as reliable biomarkers are being established and defined.
There could be many significant impacts of a reliable autism biomarker. The study authors speculate that the biomarker will help autistic people and their families by providing quicker, more cost effective diagnosis. I hope they are right. Private and public treatment and service providers will undoubtedly move to incorporate the use of the biomarkers into their criteria for determining whether to provide treatment or services. This could actually result in more waiting list delays for the scans which could simply be added on to existing eligibility requirements for receipt of services.
Current autism research conclusions including, possibly, epidemiological based vaccine research conducted during periods of changing definitions of autism in the DSM-IIII and IV, may have to be revisited using the new biomarkers. And of course some of the very high functioning persons currently diagnosed with Autism and Aspergers may lose their diagnostic labels ... and their careers as unelected, self appointed spokespersons for all "autistics". Debates about the use of functioning labels and differences of autism severity could become obsolete if clear biological/neurological distinctions are identified by MRI Brain Scans.
If the study results are confirmed and accepted by the autism research community the autism world may have just felt the first preshock of an autism earthquake that will reshape the autism world.
Information about the new MRI brain scan autism biomarker from the Medical Research Council: