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December 13,  2001

Medical Research Council autism review report

Department of Health welcomes authoritative report

 (SafetyAlerts) - Health Minister Jacqui Smith today welcomed publication of the Medical Research Council report of its detailed review of the current state of knowledge about autism.

The report, commissioned by the Department of Health in March this year, provides a clear picture of what scientific research has revealed about the occurrence and causes of autism spectrum disorders (ASDs). It accepts that autism is not as rare as previously thought but notes that the apparent increase in prevalence of ASDs is likely to have resulted from better diagnosis and clearer definition as well as increased awareness and makes recommendations on the future research strategy for the UK.

Key MRC report recommendations include:

- Ensure that the experience of people with ASDs are included in research.

- More research on the definition of ASDs, especially in adults - crucial for both future research and provision of services for those with ASDs

- The use of large population studies, which include genetic data, to address questions about environmental risks and their interaction with genetic factors

- More research on the long-term effects of ASDs and other medical conditions associated with these disorders

Jacqui Smith said:

"We welcome the Medical Research Council's authoritative report of the current state of knowledge of the prevalence, incidence and causes of autism. We would like to thank everyone involved, in particular the many lay people who contributed to the review.

"The MRC report offers a firm foundation on which further research programmes can be built and I hope the findings stimulate the research community to develop proposals to address the key issues raised in the review. We will maintain a dialogue with the MRC over the implications of this review for their research programmes.

"We note the report's conclusion that the strongest evidence to date is for a major genetic component in causation and that we need to investigate the interaction between genetic and environmental factors. We welcome the MRC Group's confirmation that the evidence does not support a causal link between MMR and ASDs. Parents should feel reassured that MMR is the safest way for them to protect their children.

"As a Government we are committed to improving services for all people with autism. They will benefit from a range of more general initiatives which we are taking such as the NHS Plan, Quality Protects and the Mental Health National Service Framework. And the National Service Framework for Children will also address how to improve services for disabled children, including those with autism.

"Our White Paper 'Valuing People' will directly benefit people with autism who also have learning disabilities. By bringing together health, social care and educational agencies, it gives us the scope to improve opportunities and services for people across the autistic spectrum. We have already included a statement in guidance on the implementation of the White Paper that people with Asperger's Syndrome may require an assessment of their social functioning and communication skills in order to establish their level of need."

Source: PRNewswire.

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