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Keywords:

  • Autism;
  • autism spectrum disorder;
  • genetics;
  • genomics

Abstract

Purpose: To present the current state of the evidence regarding translation of genetics (the study of single genes) and genomics (the study of all genes and gene-gene or gene-environment interactions) into health care of children with autism spectrum disorder (ASD).

Methods: This article presents an overview of ASD as an international health challenge, the emerging science related to broad diagnostic criteria, and the role of the nurse in research, education, and practice.

Findings: Much progress is being made in the understanding of genetics and genomics of ASD. Environmental factors are thought to contribute to the risk of developing ASD by interacting with a number of genes in different ways, thus suggesting causal heterogeneity. The rising identified prevalence of ASD, the changing diagnostic criteria for ASD, and the complexity of the core and associated features have made it difficult to define the ASD phenotype (observable behaviors that result from gene-environment interaction). Because early identification improves opportunities for intervention, researchers are looking for a useful biomarker to detect ASD. This search is complicated by the likelihood that there are multiple causes for multiple expressions that are defined as the autism spectrum.

Conclusions: To date, genetic and genomic research on ASD have underscored the complexity of the causes of ASD indicating that there are very complex genetic processes involved that are still not well understood.

Clinical Relevance: Nurses will benefit from new knowledge related to early identification, diagnosis, and implications for the family to promote early intervention. Families who have a child with ASD will require nursing support for advocacy for optimal health outcomes.