How do genetic tests answer questions about neurodevelopmental differences? A sociological take

Dev Med Child Neurol. 2022 Dec;64(12):1462-1469. doi: 10.1111/dmcn.15376. Epub 2022 Aug 13.


When it comes to neurodevelopmental differences, a genetic test result can provide compelling answers. However, it is not always clear what the relevant question is. If we want to understand the impact of a genetic diagnosis such as NGLY1 deficiency or the fragile X, trisomy X, or 22q11.2 deletion syndromes on people with neurodevelopmental differences, we must be mindful about what exactly a genetic test is supposed to tell us, where and for whom it matters, and which avenues for action it opens or forecloses. These are all moving targets. Specifically, I discuss the shifting ways a genetic test result can answer the following questions. What is this person's diagnosis? What symptoms and developmental differences are they likely to experience? What is the best way to approach their development, treatment, and care? Will they have a life worth living? When you unpack the sociological nuances of each question, the history behind them, and the uneven ways they are asked, the meanings of the answers change quite radically. I discuss the implications for social inequalities and urge experts and stakeholders to exercise agency when they interpret a genetic diagnosis. WHAT THIS PAPER ADDS: The questions a genetic test can answer depend on a range of social factors. Whether and how a genetic test result affects diagnosis, identity, prognosis, and treatment is a moving target. Genetics creates questions about a life worth living that it cannot answer alone. Stakeholders must choose the questions about neurodevelopmental differences that genetics should answer.

Publication types

  • Review

MeSH terms

  • Genetic Testing*
  • Humans
  • Socioeconomic Factors