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Sinclair Cares: New autism study looks to genes for answers

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Image via Sinclair Cares

Five-year-old Kiernan, 6-year-old Malachai and 19-year-old Skyler are siblings.

Skylar and Kiernan are confirmed to have autism. Their brother Malachai is in the process of being diagnosed, and is likely also on the spectrum.

Most people with autism spectrum disorder (ASD) have social, communication, and other challenges.

"It's kind of a bombshell," said their mother, Kami Denison, about the diagnoses. "You know, it blindsides you the first time you hear that. It's, 'What did I do wrong?'"

"You always wonder why something like that happens to you," said the kids' father, Lance.

These are common questions, but most scientists agree, autism isn’t caused by a parent's choices. The biggest risk factor is in their genes.

Scientists hope to learn more through the largest genetic study of autism ever. It's called SPARK, and researchers are recruiting 50,000 families across the country to be part of it.

Families simply register online, receive a saliva collection kit in the mail, and use it submit their DNA.

"We're setting the stage for being able to answer these questions of why, and then how do we target treatment, how do we tailor a specific type of intervention to people that have this type of genetic change," said Dr. Jennifer Gertds, a SPARK project investigator.

The Denison family is part of the SPARK study.

They already know, each of their boys is unique. Kiernan is non-verbal but compassionate. Malachai is curious and energetic.

"I'm kind. And honest. And, loyalty," Skyler said.

The boys likely have different genetic markers, putting them in different places on the autism spectrum.

Researchers want to know more about those differences.

"We wanted to be part of something that would help people in the future," Kami Denison said. "When we found out about our boys, there's no manual that comes with that. You have to find the information."

"It seems to carry a lot of promise. And whatever comes of it, whether it's a little or a lot, it's more than we could have done on our own," Lance Denison added.

The Denison family prominently displays their family pride.

And they're willing to share more about their family--down to their DNA--in the hope that science will discover new treatments for autism.

To learn more about SPARK, click here.

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