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Autism News Round-Up: Microsoft, Miracles, Mutations, and More

As Autism Awareness Month continues on and numerous activists and communities around the world unite to raise awareness about autism, a number of interesting news stories have popped up in the past week, in part inspired by this month dedicated to better understanding the disorder.

First up, in looking at recent breakthroughs in the realm of research, a team of researchers in Argentina are claiming that they have discovered a gene mutation that causes autism. According to website for the Ministry of Science in Argentina, the researchers “who sequenced and decoded for the first time in the country the complete genome of three patients with Autism Spectrum Disorder (ASD) and epilepsy, discovered the genetic mutation that causes the disorders.”

While other researchers have been quick to point out that a body of only three subjects makes it hard for the research to be conclusive, the researchers argue that SHANK3 gene defects tend to be present in individuals with autism. In this case, the three subjects were brothers, leading other researchers to begin investigating the presence of the SHANK3 gene defect in non-related individuals with autism as this research opens the field for developing treatments for this specific defect.

In other research-related news, Kaiser Permanente has announced its ambitious plans to study 15,000 people with autism over the course of the next three years to investigate the genetic and environmental causes behind autism. Kaiser’s Autism Research Program has received $4.6 million from the Simons Foundation to enroll familial trios in their research bank.

Meanwhile, in the professional realm, the Microsoft Corporation has unveiled a new program that aims to hire ten individuals with autism or asperger’s at the company’s Redmond offices in Washington. The program is part of the company’s diversity efforts and was announced by corporate vice president of worldwide affairs Mary Ellen Smith, whose 19 year-old son was diagnosed with autism. Depending on the success of the program, Microsoft hopes to expand the program to its other vacancies around the world.

In Australia, public officials are celebrating the “miracle” of a young boy’s rescue from the inhospitable brush of the Australian wilderness, where he spent several days after disappearing from his family’s campsite in Lake Eildon National Park. According to Victoria Police Acting Commander Rick Nugent, finding the boy was a miraculous outcome as rain and intemperate conditions made the search especially difficult. The boy is currently in the hospital after being treated for dehydration and hypothermia on site; he was largely uninjured save for several scratches he incurred.

Finally, filed under the “fun but functional” heading is a man in Louisina who is in his third year of painting his finger and toe nails the color blue to raise awareness about ASD. The man, Brian Batey, was diagnosed two years ago with asperger’s and his 18 year-old son also has been diagnosed with the condition, so he urges his friends and colleagues to join him in the nail painting. Says Batey, “The nails represent a growing level of acceptance of people like me and people like my son—that we have a growing place in the world of neurotypicals.”

As autism awareness continues throughout the month of April, we will keep reporting about what communities and individuals around the world are doing to raise awareness in their communities.