Researchers have made an important discovery in autism, finding genes play a significant, yet unexpected, role.
Researchers from Harvard University studied middle eastern families in which the parents were closely related and had multiple children.
They found it was easier to find rare, inherited genetic mutations in this group. They identified six genes that appear to contribute to autism.
Surprisingly, only one gene was actually removed in children with the disorder. In the other cases, what was missing was a region near the gene that had an "on/off" switch.
When the switches are off, the brain does not develop new connections after new experiences.
Researchers say this discovery is consistent with autism's onset in early childhood, when many brain connections are being made.
They say now there may be new treatment options, including behavioral and medicinal therapies that can boost brain connections.