Father's Age, Mutation, and Autism

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Article first published as Father's Age, Mutation, and Autism on Technorati.Boy with autism at the Turtle Reef exhibit at Sea World, San Diego.I was 29 when my oldest boy was born. I was 32 (almost 33) when my youngest boy was born. For many American's, that's not old to have children, at least now. According to the National Center for Health Statistics, the average age of mothers in the United States was 21.4 years, while now it is 25 years (or at least was in 2006). From that, and the assumption that the majority of fathers are generally within 5 years older than their wife (based on details from Allcountries.org), and making an assumption that most parents are married (somewhat naive, I know), or that parental action would fall under the same general age difference, it can be guessed that the age of the father averaged at 24 to now 29 in the United States. There is a lot of guesswork there, so I wouldn't consider it a hard number, but you get the idea. Fathers have been getting older over the past few decades. And now, based on an article posted in the science journal Nature, the older the father is the more likely the father will pass on genetic mutations. The research was conducted by the full genome sequencing project in Iceland, deCODE Genetics. After looking at all the genomes provided by the population of Iceland, it was determined that fathers are more likely to pass on genetic mutations than mothers, the older they get. The conclusion from this would be that genetic conditions, like autism, is attributed to inheritance from the father, and not the mother. And the older the father, the more likely it could happen. That's because more mutations happen the older the man, which explains where more diversity can happen. It does not mean, however, that you are guaranteed to have an child with autism if you are older than your early 20's. It just increases the likelihood.This has stirred up a lot of activity in the Autism community. It has angered the vaccine-haters, cast doubt on a possible cure, and will probably make a change to marriage/parenting schedules in the future. The question is, are they right? Right now, it's just an assumption. Genetic mutation is one of the possible theories of the cause of autism, particularly with parents with no history of autism in the family having children with autism. And there are a lot of people, using anecdotal evidence (my friends were young!) to disprove the theory. I'm not going to comment on the right or wrong of this connection that has been made, and touted by the media. My family has a history of autism going back at least to my grandfather's time, and it's pretty wide spread in the family on my father's side. But that being said, it's quite possible that autism first reared its head in my family due to such a mutation. Of course, it's also probable that it didn't. I don't know, because it would take more research to confirm. And that's what this theory needs: more research. I think it's very promising, and to finally have a "cause" nailed down for the autism spectrum will go a long way in understanding what is going on, even though it's not likely to bring about a "cure" or treatment. Still, once we understand autism, it becomes less scary, more familiar, and easier to manage without pending guilt or constant blame being thrown about indiscriminately. So, what does this study really mean in the long run? It means that we can start to pour money into more research around genetic mutation, therapy, and education programs for autism instead of pouring it into other theories that have been discounted long by the scientific community for lack of evidence, even though certain celebrities seem to think they are right.