Kids and Autism


Autism Spectrum Disorders (ASDs) are typically diagnosed in toddlers or young children based on certain behavioral patterns; there is no medical diagnostic test. “There are changes in three areas of behavior that lead to a diagnosis,” Dr. Philip Schwartz, senior scientist at the CHOC Research Institute in Orange, explains. “One is communication and the others are sociability and repetitive behaviors, where the child does the same thing over and over. These children have trouble communicating. They don’t make that connection. There’s little eye contact or emotional content in their interactions with other people, including their parents.”


“The causes are generally unknown. We think it has to do with the way the brain cells communicate with each other. There is a strong genetic predisposition to autism although influences during pregnancy cannot be ruled out,” explains Dr. Schwartz. “Scientists are working to find a biological cause so we can have a diagnostic tool that is not just behavioral, like a blood test. With that knowledge, we can also develop new therapies and drugs.” There is currently no cure for autism but behavioral therapy can help if started early.


“Scientists at CHOC are growing brain cells from skin cells. This lets us analyze in a dish in a laboratory how the brain cells communicate with each other,” says Dr. Schwartz. “We can’t analyze that in a living child. The best way to do this is to make the cells in a dish the laboratory equivalent of a brain,” he says. “This will tell us what parts of the cells’ communications are not working properly. Understanding this will give us targets for therapy.” Dr. Schwartz expects some key findings in the next couple of years.


A stem cell is an immature cell that can be made from any part of the body, like the skin, and that scientists can make into a mature cell in a lab. In research, stem cells are being used to study a host of diseases in children and adults, including brain diseases like autism, childhood metabolic diseases, Parkinson’s disease and Alzheimer’s disease.


  • Prevalence of Autism Spectrum Disorders (ASDs) in Girls: 1 in 252
  • Prevalence of ASDs in Boys: 1 in 54

Meet Dr. Schwartz - CHOC Researcher

Dr. Phillip Schwartz is the director/supervisor and a senior scientist at the National Human Neural Stem Cell Resource in the Center for Translational Research at the CHOC Research Institute in Orange. He is also an associate research biologist at the Developmental Biology Center at UC Irvine’s School of Biological Sciences, and he is on the adjunct research faculty in the Department of Biological Sciences, College of Natural Sciences and Mathematics, at California State University, Fullerton. Nationally recognized for his work in the stem cell field, Dr. Schwartz’s research focuses on the use of stem cells to understand the neurobiological causes of autism and other neurodevelopmental disorders.

Ph.D. in neuroscience with a minor in pharmacology
Brain Research Institute, School of Medicine, UCLA
B.S in biology and B.S. in chemistry Seattle University

Dr. Philip Schwartz

Autism and Stem Cell Research: Past and Future

Scientists and researchers at the CHOC Research Institute continue to study Autism Spectrum Disorders (ASDs) in an effort to find the causes and develop effective treatments for these perplexing and mysterious disorders.

Dr. Philip Schwartz and his team use stem cells made from the skin of patients with autism or ASD and turn them into brain cells to better understand the conditions.

Two scientists collaborating in the lab

Autism Research

In this segment of American Health Journal, Dr. Phil Schwartz, CHOC, explains how autism is currently is being diagnosed and how new new research may lead to diagnosing the disorder with a simple blood test.

Learn more abut research at CHOC.

Raising a Child with Autism: What I Wish I Knew Sooner

Today, we hear from Teri Book, a nurse practitioner at The Center for Autism  & Neurodevelopmental Disorders. Teri shares what she’s learned as a nurse caring for children with autism, and also as a mother of a child with autism.

Mom watching young son with his arms in the air

Knowledge is the best medicine. Learn more about your child's health in these features from the experts at CHOC.

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Orthopaedics is the field of medicine that diagnoses and treats conditions of the musculoskeletal system, including bones, joints, muscles, tendons and ligaments.

Kids and Cancer
You treat children with cancer differently than you treat adults. It is a family centered care where you must understand the family's dynamics.

Kids and Bedwetting
Bedwetting occurs more frequently in boys than in girls, and the problem usually stops once the child is motivated and ready to work on staying dry.

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