Columbia University Medical Center

Autism: What We Know and What We Don’t Know

Parents are always asking P&S pediatrician and geneticist Wendy Chung, MD, PhD, “Why did my child develop autism?”

The answer—for any particular child—is usually unknown, but in this TED video, Dr. Chung says genes play a prominent role in causing autism. “How genetic is it? When we compare it with other conditions that we’re familiar with, things like cancer, heart disease, diabetes, in fact, genetics plays a much larger role in autism than it does in any of these other conditions,” she says.

Scientists now estimate that there are 200 to 400 different genes that can cause autism.

Dr Chung says, “Genes are [not] the only cause of autism, but it’s a cause of autism that we can readily define and be able to better understand the biology and understand better how the brain works so that we can come up with strategies to be able to intervene.

“Identifying the genes for autism is important for us to identify drug targets, to identify things that we might be able to impact.”