Beautiful Eyes.

There was an article recently publicized in the media about facial differences of children with autism.  The study’s author, Kristina Aldridge remarked that ASD children have beautiful eyes.  I, personally have often thought that ASD children are quite beautiful especially their very long eyelashes.  My son has those.  On the other hand, I would never say they have similar facial features nor are they easily identified by appearance.  One child with autism is one child with autism.  And one beautiful face is not the cookie cutter of another beautiful face.

The point of the article was to support the idea that autism may arise in very early embryological development.  Apparently, the face develops during the second and third month of pregnancy in concert with brain development.  If you want to see the changes, watch this interesting, short video:

The study pinpoints 17 measurements taken of 64 boys on the spectrum who manifest the same changes in facial features all of which differ from 41 neurotypical boys whose features were also measured.  The study showed that the ASD children had wider eyes, and a “broader upper face,” compared with typically developing children. According to the study, children with autism also had a shorter middle region of the face – including the nose and cheeks – as well as a wider mouth and philtrum, the divot between nose and lip.

The researchers said that knowing the point in time when these changes occur could lead to identifying a genetic cause, a window of time when the embryo may be susceptible to an environmental factor or both.  I guess the idea is that, by identifying the time when structural differences in the face manifest themselves this will somehow narrow the scope of further research into finding the cause of autism?

I’m no student of neuroscience or embryology nor would I pretend to be.  But my first reaction to this is that just because you can identify when something develops, if it is genetically based, I don’t see how this narrows the scope or brings anyone any closer to discovering the cause of autism.  There are between 30,000 and 40,000 genes in the human body.  There are 3 billion bits of DNA in each human cell.

Autism is a spectrum.  Because autism can be anything from high functioning to severe, there are more likely than not, multiple genetic and/or environmental bases for its occurrence.  Just because we might, by this study, know a when, i.e., that it develops in utero and is genetically based, does not make it easier to determine how it occurs or where within our genetic makeup it occurs.  I just don’t see the connection between the study and the word “progress”.

In fact, I don’t want to go all histrionic with use of the word “eugenics” but it does come to mind in relation to this article.  Now, I’m not saying anything about the researchers having anything but purely scientific motivations (or not) but I can see how this “study” could lead down that path.  And that bothers me.

I also find it troublesome solely on the basis that this study involved physiological appearance.  A three dimensional scan of children to map their faces and then measure their facial features.  It’s plausible that this could be a study to determine whether differences somehow tie in to craniofacial development as it relates to autism.  Yet, I’m dubious of how the two tie to each other.

In fact, there is a whole separate field of medical/dental professionals who are working with craniofacial issues and genetics through The FaceBase Project.  They are trying to determine the genetics related to craniofacial development for purposes completely unrelated to autism (such as cleft lips).  In reviewing the discussion of the FaceBase Project I learned that “much research is needed to achieve a molecular and cellular understanding of the mechanisms by which genes and gene products interact to generate complex phenotypes.”   This says – to me- that no one knows, at this point, what genes are involved in craniofacial development.  How can measuring a face and attempting a tie in to craniofacial development help discover a cause of autism without knowledge of what genes are even involved in craniofacial development?  Without that knowledge, and without empirical evidence of a tie in between autism and facial development, such a “study”, with such paltry numbers, yields nothing of value at all.

As far as this data goes, who is to say that these facial measurements are nothing more than a comorbid condition, like sensory processing disorder and autism or autism and seizures?  They exist together but are separate entities in themselves.  My admittedly unscientific conclusion on the whole thing is that that this autism study has no utility now or for the foreseeable future.  More importantly, it leaves a bitter aftertaste on my sensibility.

The only useful information I actually derived from this information is learning just how vastly complex the areas of genetic research are and how little we know.  A bonus?  I found that Audrey Hepburn had the best quote about beautiful eyes:

“For beautiful eyes, look for the good in others; for beautiful lips, speak only words of kindness; and for poise, walk with the knowledge that you are never alone.”  

Audrey Hepburn

Hmm, I wonder how her facial measurements compare to my son’s.

After all, they both have beautiful eyes.


About solodialogue

I'm a lawyer and the mom of a 6 year old boy with autism. I work part time and spend the rest driving here and there and everywhere for my son's various therapies. Instead of trying cases, I now play Pac-man and watch SpongeBob. I wear old sweaters and jeans and always, always flat shoes to run after my son. Yeah, it's different but I wouldn't change it for anything. The love of my child is the most powerful, beautiful and rewarding aspect of my life.
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28 Responses to Beautiful Eyes.

  1. my son has gorgeous eyes as well
    I had the very same reaction on reading the study

    Have you read Autism tomorrows – Jill Escher is a lawyer like you -and she has 3 with autism – she points out this very impt point of a lot of Autism research being BS because there are so many different paths to autism and we are just looking at the superficial similarities of ASD and trying to find causes and cures

    • solodialogue says:

      Thanks for your visit and comment. I can see that your son has beautiful eyes. Your post about your son losing his therapist and sleeping with the word “sad” really brought tears to my eyes.

      I did not know of Jill but I will check out her blog! There are so many paths and so many variations of autism that studies that appear to be on the verge of something important can be misleading and give us false hope. And that is just wrong.

  2. I looked at this study too and find it a little hard to stomach. First off, the sample set included just over 100 people. Second, it only included boys. It’s interesting and all, but far too superficial to really give any good information.

    • blogginglily says:

      the girls have gorgeous eyes too. . . my sample set included 1 girl though, so you might poo poo my results.

    • solodialogue says:

      I agree. I just dislike anything that is going to make these kind of comparisons and use conclusory language without explaining the “how” part. How will this make it better? How does this relate to discovering a cause? I can’t see it.

  3. blogginglily says:

    Whoa Whoa Whoa. . . let’s stop the crazy train here and get down to brass tacks; to the central crucial baseline that we ALL know is at the heart of this entire ASD “puzzle” . . .

    When will the meteor unlock our children’s latent super powers, and how do we ensure our place as trusted servants when they take over as the master race?

  4. Melissa says:

    My daughter has the eyes too….

    I think the study is rather interesting, but of no real practical use – because the thought of putting something like that to use is a little scary… at least for now.

    But truly… she’s very much OUR kid. So, yes, she has the eyes… they’re my color and a mix of his an my shape…. and such is the way with many of her characteristics, physical and otherwise. Good and challenging.

  5. Julie says:

    Autism is caused by vaccines. Wait, no, that’s not right. Autism is caused by environment. Yeah, wait, no. Autism is caused by genetics. Ta Da! No wait, that’s not it either. Wait, I have it, I have no fargin clue what the hell I’m talking about!

    You can insert just about any disease or disability into the place of autism and get the same results. The only people I trust are the ones who say “this appears to be part of the equation but how it fits in… well, we just don’t know”. Those are the ones I have respect for.

    Dylan has a genetic deletion which is one of the deletions associated with autism. He has autistic like behaviors but he’s not autistic. We participated in a study and I was very impressed with this group. They are the ones trying to figure out why a parent with a 16p11.2 deletion is completely neurotypical but their child has autism. They are the first ones to say they just don’t know and I respect them immensely for it.

    • solodialogue says:

      You so said it right! There are many camps who will argue their point to the max but in the end – who knows?

      We have done the genetic testing and the results are in but no one has returned my call yet to tell me what they are… Your study sounds like one of the best things you could have been involved with and I hope that studies like it come around these parts because Dylan seems to have made some good progress! 🙂

  6. Flannery says:

    Nicely written article! I agree, it’s disconcerting that funding goes into these studies, which seem a bit like red herrings.

    I have to wonder if we’ll ever know the cause.

    • solodialogue says:

      Thank you! I wonder if the cause will come in a way that will help with the treatment. While I know that cause often precedes treatment, I’d much rather an effective treatment be developed whatever the cause.

  7. Lana Rush says:

    I wish “they” would do more research and funding into things that really matter – like treatments that will truly make a difference for our children.

    I never thought I would be this way but I lean just a tad towards those who believe in “conspiracy theory”. Now, before you unfriend me and ban me from your blog, I promise I don’t take it too far, never giving out my social security number and all that.

    But having a daughter with Type 1 Diabetes for 13 years now has opened my eyes to just how much money there is to be made in “disease” and not in the “curing of disease”. I’ve heard every year since her diagnosis that there will be a cure in her lifetime. And with all the medical advancements and technology there is in the world today, I have to wonder sometimes why it seems so hard to figure out how to cure diabetes when it seems that other far more complicated diseases have made more progress.

    Honestly, Eli Lilly and other such companies make millions of dollars off of diabetes. Do I think if someone came up with a cure for diabetes that they could be bought off, paid to “sit on it’? I’d like to think not but I can’t help but wonder every now and then….

    Same goes for autism…

    Now that I’ve revealed this slightly paranoid side of myself, can we still be friends, Karen??

    • solodialogue says:

      Most definitely! Don’t ever worry about expressing your opinions here. Your feelings have been mine sometimes as well. I have worked cases that have taught me how much money is at stake. It is a phenomenal number & a powerful one. I don’t know if someone could squash their ego enough to sit on a cure but money buys a lot of silence so who can really say?

  8. Lana Rush says:

    And by the way – thanks for adding me to your blog list. Are you going to remove me now???

  9. Tracy says:

    …….Its been awhile, I have so much catching up to do on your blog, life has been hectic with my son, fighting state, IEP challenges, and everything else…….I have at least four months to catch up on…….just wanted to say I had the very same reaction on reading the study. And YOU ARE AMAZING!!!

  10. I read about this study too, but in the report that I read, it talked about how these facial features continue to develop through childhood, with the autistic child developing larger eyes, it didn’t just refer to embryos so I didn’t see the whole eugenics thing. Interesting. I see research as almost as much ruling things out as coming up with conclusions. It is going to be a painstaking process to get definitive answers. And I think there are a few routes to this thing we call autism. But I all kinds of wish they’d include girls in these studies, mine has big beautiful eyes too!

    • solodialogue says:

      Maybe you have it right but I still don’t see how we get from here to there and make reasonably good time getting there. I have no idea why they could not include girls in these studies! It would be interesting to see those results as well.

  11. eof737 says:

    The information in the research merits further investigation… I like the positive comment about beautiful eyes and beautiful ASD children but I don’t get how that helps much really… Back to the drawing board I’ll say. Nevertheless, your Toots is gorgeous. 🙂

  12. Denise says:

    We agree, your Tay is adorable, (it must run in the family!)

  13. lmcooley says:

    At first, the comments here saddened me; however, I’m now taking a closer look at the dates, and realize the information back in 2011 is old as this (time of my comment) is 2013. But even with that in mind, I don’t understand why people don’t realize that it will take baby steps.

    My son is currently undergoing a wide range of testing, which included facial measurements as well as DNA testing. The DNA component is relatively new, and came about because of the observations in facial measurements. The study mentioned here is absolutely a step forward, but because it didn’t answer any questions, instead only raising more, it has not been well received by the commentors above. And I get that – I want answers too. (And we’re getting some… there is a chromosome difference; enough that my husband and I are currently being tested, but it is raising more questions than answers).

    I’m also coming from the perspective of not only being a parent of a child on the spectrum, but also as an aunt of a teen on the spectrum and the sister-in-law of an adult on the spectrum. Seeing, in my extended family, a kindergartener, a teen and a thirty-something all on the spectrum, I’ve also looked at what’s been happening over the past 30 years.

    What my in-laws parental group experienced has benefitted my sister’s parental group, and in turn, her parental group’s experiences have helped mine. The experiences of today’s parents finding their children on the spectrum will help future parental groups.

    Yes, it’s slow. No, the answers are not yet outweighing the questions, but a lot has been learnt. I believe every baby-step is worth it.

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