Parents and scientists are hoping that a new detailed analysis based on human genome will bring a big breakthrough within a yearMark Henderson, Science Editor
It has become one of the most controversial and feared medical diagnoses of modern times. Autism was barely spoken of a generation ago but it has been forced into public consciousness by the row over the MMR vaccine and the growing realisation that it is much more common than doctors had imagined.

The suggestion that the developmental disorder can be triggered by the MMR vaccine has been shown to be scientifically unfounded, but it prompted thousands of parents to agonise over the cruel condition that seems to leave children walled off in a social and emotional world of their own, apparently beyond their love.

Their concerns have also been fed by reports of an autism epidemic. A disorder that was once rare has become alarmingly common, with as many as one in 100 children now thought to be affected in some way.

Even if much of this is explained by better diagnosis, the condition retains a brutal mystery. What is it that makes children who seem normal at birth regress suddenly a year or two into life? Now a change in science’s ability to decipher how genes influence health is promising to pin down what autism owes to inheritance.

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Within the next year a new study is expected to identify many of the genes that underlie autism for the first time. At the same time, two new theories are challenging established thinking about autism genetics in ways that could ultimately transform diagnosis and treatment.

“The medics tell me we are at a tipping point,â€Â