The historical study on autism enters fourth year and gives answers to families


Alex Wise, 5, is part of the SPARK study at OHSU. SPARK is a national study and the largest autism study on autism.

Some autistic children and their families finally get answers about their diagnosis. The largest study of history on autism – called "spark" – is in its fourth year and OHSU researchers are helping to uncover part of the mystery.

Alex Wise could be the biggest fan of Spiderman. The shoes, the mask … he even has shooters on the web.

"He loves his superheroes … he loves his legos," says his mother, Megan Wise.

And this five-and-a-half year old child has made tremendous progress in recent years, thanks to advanced behavioral therapy for his rare form of autism called "Baraitser-Winter Syndrome".

"It's night and day – the progress that he has made," says Daniel Wise, Alex's father. "This explains the behavior and helps us somehow to address it so that we can actually help it and better manage the sensory processing issues."

Daniel and Megan Wise got the specific diagnosis of their little boy after joining SPARK – the largest study on autism in history.

"For every family, finding an answer is really meaningful," says Dr. Brian O. Roak, who heads the OHSU team as part of the SPARK National Study.

"We are making rapid progress on the causes of autism – especially genetic causes," said O. Roak.

The researchers have identified a few hundred autism-related high-risk genes and believe that there are still a few hundred to discover. Scientists believe that autism begins to develop when the baby lives 20 weeks in the womb.

"We need to understand how this development is evolving to understand how people with autism brain work differently," says Dr. O. Roak. "So, if we can understand how the brain works differently, we can design targeted interventions."

Interventions that could change the lives of many families

"There is absolutely nothing to lose," says Megan Wise. "It helps science, it helps other families, we can deepen the research, I think it's a win-win situation."

Especially because their insurance has denied genetic testing many times. SPARK is the only reason they have a diagnosis, which has helped them learn about information that can save lives.

"We did find a little problem with his heart and his ear," says Daniel Wise. "So we will be able to take care of it … prepare it for happiness on the road."

In this way, their little superhero can prosper.

Scientists are looking for more families to join SPARK.

All you need is a diagnosis of autism. You complete information, make a cheek swab and send it to a laboratory. The researchers are particularly interested in the trio – a child, a mother and a father – for the genetic part of the research.

Visit the spark web page at OHSU here.

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