Prenatal screening for autism moves a step closer to reality today as new research has found ways of potentially identifying the condition in unborn babies.
By Murray Wardrop, Telegraph.co.uk
Scientists at Cambridge University discovered that high levels of testosterone in the amniotic fluid of pregnant mothers was linked to autistic traits in their children. The findings raise the possibility of undertaking tests in the womb to detect the condition, which would allow parents the controversial ability to decide whether to terminate foetuses.
Scientists are now calling for a national debate on the consequences of the screening process, called amniocentesis, which is already used to detect Down’s syndrome in unborn babies.
Parents of autistic children are especially critical of testing linked to
Sufferers of the disorder include people with extraordinary abilities in mathematics and music, as well as children who are unable to communicate and require lifelong care.
Critics point out that a prenatal test would not be able to identify such differences in the effects the disorder can have on individuals.
Director of the research team, Professor Simon Baron-Cohen, told the Guardian: “If there was a prenatal test for autism, would this be desirable? What would we lose if children with autistic spectrum disorder were eliminated from the population? “We should start debating this. There is a test for Down’s syndrome and that is legal and parents exercise their right to choose termination, but autism if often linked with talent. It is a different kind of condition.”
Experts from the university’s autism research centre discovered the testosterone link after studying 235 children from birth to the age of eight.
They found that when high levels of the hormone were found, children showed autistic traits such as a lack of sociability and verbal skills by the time they were eight.