Entries in Autism Spectrum Disorders (3)


New Drug Offers Hope for Autism Patients 

iStockphoto/Thinkstock(CHICAGO) -- Researchers have found a drug that can help patients with Fragile X syndrome stay calm in social situations by treating their anxiety.

Dr. Elizabeth Berry-Kravis and her team found that a drug called Arbaclofen reduced social avoidance and repetitive behavior in Fragile X patients, especially those with autism. The drug increases GABA, a chemical in the brain that regulates the excitatory system in Fragile X patients.  

GABA-deficient patients are often easily excited or overwhelmed, but one trial participant said he was able to enjoy his birthday party for the first time in his life while he was on Arbaclofen.

Sixty-three patients with Fragile X participated in Berry-Kravis's placebo-controlled, double-blind clinical trial from December 2008 through March 2010. Of those, the patients with autism showed the biggest improvements in social behavior, Berry-Kravis said.

Fragile X syndrome, which affects one in 4,000 men and one in 6,000 to 8,000 women, causes autism in up to one-third of patients diagnosed with it. While the two disorders are linked, they are not mutually exclusive. Unlike Fragile X syndrome, which is genetic, autism is a behavioral diagnosis characterized by an inability to relate to other people or read social cues.

Although Arbaclofen worked best on autistic Fragile X patients, further studies will be needed to prove whether it can help all autism patients, not just those with autism caused by Fragile X.

Copyright  2012 ABC News Radio


For Some, Autism Considered Strength, Not Disorder

iStockphoto/Thinkstock(ROYAL OAK, Mich.) -- Of all the famed names in autism, Temple Grandin is perhaps one of the quickest to come to mind.

Grandin, who was diagnosed with autism in 1950, didn’t speak until she was about 4 years old. At the time, the definition of autism seemed clearer cut than it is today. Looking back, many experts would say she exhibited classic signs of the disorder. But the spectrum of the disorder has grown wider since then. Grandin has arguably landed so far on one end of the spectrum that it could be hard to see what the other side of autism looks like.

About 1 in 110 children are diagnosed with autism spectrum disorder, characterized by problems in social interaction and communication, and delayed and repetitive behavior. Unlike Grandin, many will not be able to develop the necessary skills to speak, or hold a stable job. Many remain dependent on caregivers for the rest of their lives.

These stark differences have prompted many researchers to suggest that autism should not be grouped under one diagnosis, but in fact, should be labeled as different conditions.

“Research is starting to show us that there is not just one pathway that makes it necessary for the condition to be called autism,” said Dr. Lori Warner, director for the HOPE Center for Autism at Beaumont Children’s Hospital in Royal Oak, Mich. “The core features are still there. How it’s manifested is different.”

And because of this, Warner said the seemingly different way the condition is displayed is better off staying grouped as "autism."

In fact, the DSM (Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders) seems to be moving away from differentiating autism any further. Some experts say that for those who function well, autism should not be considered a disability or a disorder.

Instead, in some cases, the condition could serve as an advantage. Grandin went on to earn a doctoral degree and her redesign of livestock handling equipment became the standard for many cattle plants across the U.S. and Canada. Grandin then became a best-selling author and speaker.

In fact, Laurent Mottron, who holds the Marcel and Rolande Research Chair in Cognitive Neuroscience of Autism at the University of Montreal, directs eight members of his lab who are considered autistic.

“In certain settings, autistic individuals can fare extremely well,” wrote Mottron. “One such setting is scientific research.”

Mottron doesn’t consider his lab members to be extraordinary workers, or savants, he wrote in an editorial published November in the journal Nature. But their strength in research has been a huge asset to his lab, he said.

“Without question, autistic brains operate differently,” Mottron wrote in his editorial. He added that most autistics are better at detecting changing sounds, detecting visual structures, and manipulating 3D shapes. But, Warner cautioned against minimizing the limitations of their conditions.

“If you put anyone in an environment where they can display their strengths, then of course they’ll thrive,” said Warner, who called for a “bigger-picture” look at strengthening other life situations beyond the work environment.

“Just because they do well in one environment doesn’t mean their condition is not necessarily a disorder,” she said.

While autism, by definition, is marked by impaired communication, social and physical behavior, Mottron said research so far is hyper-focused on the deficits of a person with autism, and how to treat them. Instead, the focus should be on developing their strengths and abilities, he said.

Copyright 2011 ABC News Radio


One Year Olds Can Now Be Screened for Autism, Study Finds

Ryan McVay/Thinkstock(SAN DIEGO) -- Currently, autism spectrum disorders (ASDs) can reliably be detected by the age of three, however, the Center for Disease Control and Prevention recommends that children be screened for subtle signs as early as 18 months of age. 

Most pediatricians would agree that early detection is crucial as early detection can lead to early intervention, and therefore possibly a better outcome. 

A new study, published in the Journal of Pediatrics, shows that a simple, five minute parent questionnaire can detect subtle signs in children as young as 12 months of age.

Pediatricians gave the parents of over 10,000 infants a 24-point checklist to fill out while sitting in the waiting room, which asked them to provide answers about their child's communication, gesture and verbal capabilities.  Some of the questions included:

1. Does you child let you know that he/she needs help or wants an object out of reach?
2. Does your child show objects to you without giving you the object?
3. Does you child string sounds together, such as "uh oh, mama, gaga, bye bye, bada?"
4. Does your child show interest in playing with a variety of objects?

Children who failed the screen were referred for advanced behavioral therapy.

The screen was able to provide an accurate diagnosis of a language, developmental or some other form of delay, 75 percent of the time.

Autism experts agree that the implementation of a check-list screening process at one year well-baby visits has huge, positive implications for the diagnosis and treatment of ASD.

Copyright 2011 ABC News Radio 

ABC News Radio