Less is More
All states call for genetic screening of newly born infants, and the purpose of these tests is to identify illnesses that develop in childhood so that treatment may begin as soon as possible. In California, newborns are screened for nearly 60 childhood-onset diseases including sickle cell anemia, thyroid disorders and cystic fibrosis.
One of the concerns with testing infants and young children for adult-onset diseases is the potential stress for parents of knowing their child may be at risk for certain cancers or other potentially chronic illnesses. Without the advice of a genetic counselor, it's possible parents may not know what steps to take once they receive the test results. And once a child becomes old enough to know that she has an illness, parents may need guidance from a psychologist or pediatrician on how best to support their child's emotional and physical well-being.
Adding another complex layer, technology and the Human Genome Project have made it possible for anyone with an Internet connection to purchase a genetic testing kit online. Some websites even offer kits designed for infants and toddlers. Once the results are received, it's up to the parent to follow up with a medical professional.
In some cases, however, additional testing may be beneficial. Knowing a child is predisposed to heart disease, for example, can help parents raise awareness about healthy lifestyle habits and guide a health care provider in identifying appropriate treatment or intervention options.
The AAP strongly urges parents who opt for additional genetic testing for their newborns to seek counseling from a medical or genetics professional before and after the test. Whatever choice parents make, the AAP and the American College of Medical Genetics agree that the decision should be based upon what's best for the child.
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