April 2 is World Autism Awareness Day when the international community will “Light It Up Blue” to bring recognition to autism as a rising global health concern. Texas Children’s encourages everyone to wear blue that day or post something blue to one of their personal social media pages to show their support for autism awareness.
Autism spectrum disorder is the fastest-growing developmental disability in the United States, affecting 1 out of every 68 children. It occurs more often among boys than girls. Children with autism often experience significant social, communication and behavioral challenges.
For more than a decade, Natanya Dugall searched for a diagnosis for her son that would explain his vision, speech and movement impairments. She knew something was wrong with Grayson from the moment he was born, but initial genetic testing turned up nothing.
When Grayson turned 13, Dugall received some unexpected news. A laboratory had identified chromosomal deletions on a specific gene in Grayson’s DNA which had been collected years earlier. After the initial find, Grayson participated in a study at the Autism Center at Texas Children’s that examined the effects of people who grew up with either chromosomal deletions or copies on this gene.
When the Dugall family made the 1,120-mile trek from their home in Milwaukee, Wisconsin to Houston in 2011, their quest for answers to Grayson’s puzzling condition was confirmed – he had autism.
“I cannot begin to express my gratitude to the research team from Baylor College of Medicine and Texas Children’s Hospital for funding all of the testing and travel expenses,” Dugall said. “Grayson understands the probability that he can pass this to his children – knowledge that we struggle with but are so grateful to finally know.”
The Autism Center’s multidisciplinary team of specialists from developmental pediatrics, psychology, psychiatry, neurology and social work provide diagnostic evaluations and ongoing clinical care to 2,000 patients with autism each year. Researchers at the Autism Center participate in a wide range of research studies focused on autism spectrum disorders, collaborating with scientists from other renowned centers across the nation.
In conjunction with the groundbreaking work emerging from the The Autism Center, Dr. Ruth Ann Luna at Texas Children’s Microbiome Center focuses much of her research on the link between disturbances in the gut microbiome and gastrointestinal (GI) symptoms in children with autism. One of her biggest motivators is her 6-year-old son, Kellen, who has autism.
With the support of a $1.4 million, three-year-grant from Autism Speaks, Luna and her Baylor and Texas Children’s colleagues are embarking on a study to determine if a biological connection exists between autism and GI disorders.
“I was in awe when I found out we were awarded this funding to advance autism research,” Luna said. “The data gleaned from our research will benefit my son and other families who have children with autism, especially those children with limited verbal abilities.” Click here to read more about Luna’s autism study.