Entries in Autism (52)


Study Shows Increase in Childhood Developmental Problems

Comstock/Thinkstock(ATLANTA) -- It seems that doctors are finding autism to be more and more common.  Now a new government study further explores the trend, which includes other developmental problems.

Autism and other childhood development difficulties have increased 17 percent in the last 10 years, according to the findings of the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.

Based on data from children age 3 to 17, the authors found a rise in those with autism, attentional deficit hyperactivity disorder (ADHD), cerebral palsy, mental retardation and seizures.

Autism had the biggest increase, rising four-fold between 2006 and 2008.

But ADHD rose 33 percent, the biggest reason behind the higher incidence of developmental problems. Boys had a higher prevalence than girls.

The experts say the increase may be due to more pre-term births and parents having kids at later ages.

These findings are published in Pediatrics.

Copyright 2011 ABC News Radio


Autism Takes Financial Toll on Families

File photo. Goodshoot/Thinkstock(SAN DIEGO) -- Children with autism take a financial toll on their parents, according to a new study presented Wednesday at the International Meeting for Autism Research.

Families of children with autism make less money than other families and the mother is less likely to work -- and not because autism itself is so impairing. Dr. David Mandell at the University of Pennsylvania says navigating the complicated system of care can be a full-time job.

"What happens is that the mother drops out of the labor market to become the case manager for the child," and parents of autistic children have difficulty finding appropriate child care, Mandell says.

Copyright 2011 ABC News Radio


Research Suggests Autism Estimates Fall Short

Christopher Robbins/Thinkstock(SEOUL) -- A new study published in the American Journal of Psychiatry Monday suggests that more children have autism than previously thought.

Researchers in South Korea examined 55,000 children in Seoul. They found that one in 38 were somewhere on the autism spectrum.

The study suggests that similar examinations of a total population would raise estimates. In the United States, autism is estimated to be found in one percent of the population, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.

Copyright 2011 ABC News Radio


Behavior Therapy Trumps Medications for Autism, Study Says YORK) -- While there is no cure for autism, there is no shortage of purported treatments to manage the range of symptoms associated with the wide spectrum of the disorder.  And many parents of newly diagnosed children find themselves inundated with overflowing and at times conflicting treatment recommendations.

But three study reviews published Monday in the Journal of Pediatrics found that early intensive behavioral interventions are more effective for autism symptoms than medical interventions.

Some of the common forms of medical treatment that are prescribed for children with autism include antidepressants, stimulants, and antipsychotics -- drugs often used to treat patients with schizophrenia, anxiety disorders, and depression.  One of the three reviews also looked at secretin, which is used to alleviate gastrointestinal issues that are found in some children diagnosed with autism.

The reviews found little evidence to support the purported benefits of these treatments.

On the other hand, behavioral interventions vary widely.  They focus on improving a child's learning by helping children with autism develop physical and social skills.

Interactive, avatar-based computer programs are among the more innovative approaches to behavioral intervention.  While they are considered experimental, many experts say these novel efforts may prove effective in some children with autism.

Dr. David Beversdorf, an assistant professor of neurology at the University of Missouri, said a computerized approach that can teach behavior skills by simulating the "real world" could help ease the social pressure for children who may feel anxious in their actual environment.

"It can be approached as a 'game' rather than as a 'training,'" said Beversdorf.

But like many autism interventions, these behavioral technologies may not work for every child on the spectrum.  Initial studies show that avatar-based technology is not effective for non-verbal or lower-functioning children.  These studies also suggest that computerized programs are unable to replicate subtle facial cues that could help a child learn in the real world.

Still, many experts say avatar technology can be one of many cost-effective and easily-accessible approaches to supplement other forms of autism therapy.

Copyright 2011 ABC News Radio


Powerful Tool May Get Us Closer to Understanding Autism

Comstock/ThinkstockPowerful Tool May Get Us Closer to Understanding Autism

(DURHAM, N.C.) -- Autism symptoms have been replicated in mice using one gene mutation, one of the first so-called single-gene knockouts that scientists say puts them another step closer to understanding a genetic link to autism, researchers at Duke University reported.

Their findings were published Sunday in the journal Nature.

Scientists examining genetic traits or environmental exposures that can contribute to autism have previously replicated behavioral symptoms of autism in mice. But these mouse models of autism replicated only a few specific behavioral traits associated with autism.

This new model, according to researchers, used a known gene mutation associated with autism -- called the SHANK3 gene mutation -- to replicate a wider range of behaviors that include impaired social interaction and repetitive behaviors.

Scientists have struggled for years to find effective medical treatments for autism, mainly because they have been unable to understand the pathways in the brain that cause the disorder.

Previous studies suggest that SHANK3 gene mutation is one of a series of rare genetic mutations that are linked to autism. The SHANK3 gene mutation has been identified in nearly 16 percent of children with autism. Earlier studies, however, do not pinpoint the exact role the mutations played in the disorder.

"Having an animal model that can teach us more about how a specific gene mutation is correlated with behavior is critically important to our understanding of the overall biology of autism," said Andy Shih, vice president of scientific affairs at the nonprofit Autism Speaks.

The current findings may offer some insight in the relationship between SHANK3 mutations and the characteristic traits of autism. Some experts say it's hard to tell whether insights that will be gained from the SHANK3 mutation will translate to the other genetic mutations that are associated with autism.

Still, Dr. Thomas Insel of the National Institutes of Health said, so-called single-gene knockouts such as this have been one of the first instrumental steps in better understanding the mechanism of many now manageable conditions in humans, including heart disease and hypertension.

"This is a big step," he said. "But we need a lot more big steps to get to finding early diagnostic and medical treatments.

"It doesn't yet tell us where a new treatment or diagnosis will be. But this is part of the process."

Copyright 2011 ABC New Radio


Doctor Does Groundbreaking Autism Research

Comstock/Thinkstock(ATLANTA) -- Four years ago, doctors diagnosed Tyler Hudson of Gwinnett County with high functioning autism. "The first two days I think I did nothing but sit in this house and cry and feel sorry for myself," said Tyler's mom, Melanie. She quickly turned autism into action and found a developmental pediatrician who recommended speech and occupational therapy for Tyler. Now, she said, Tyler is a typical 7-year-old boy who loves school, friends, and sports.

Hudson still has strong beliefs that it was childhood vaccines that triggered Tyler's autism, but a local researcher said extensive studies show the vaccines can't be blamed.

Neurogeneticist Dr. John Stoffner has spent the last 20 years studying the connection between autism spectrum disorder and mitochondria disease. Mitochondria produce most of the energy the body needs. Stoffner said mitochondria deficiencies can be linked to a host of problems including Alzheimer's disease, Parkinson's disease and autism. Dr. Stoffner and his team discovered children who have autism and mitochondria disease together are a greater risk for autistic regression, especially when they have a fever. He said a fever of around 102 degrees or higher coupled with dehydration, can act as a trigger. Think of it as going from a 1 to a 6  or an 8 on the autism spectrum. "We found that developing a fever was a very important part," Dr. Stoffner said. He urged parents who believe their child could be in danger to speak with their pediatrician. Doctors can test and treat mitochondria disease in some cases.

Dr. Stoffner's research was awarded one of the top 10 autism achievements of 2009 by the group Autism Speaks. He's currently working on a joint project with Georgia State University and Georgia Tech to study brain function of children with both mitochondria disease and autism. "I am committed to the concept that there is going to be a cure one day," he said. 

Copyright 2011 ABC News Radio


Study: Brain Waves Detect Babies' Potential Risk of Autism

Photo Courtesy - Getty Images(BOSTON) -- Although autism is one of the fastest growing diagnoses among toddlers, there are no medical tests to screen for the disorder -- all that's used by specialists in a simple checklist for behavioral signs and symptoms.

But a new study adds to mounting evidence that measuring brain activity during infancy could help determine whether a baby might be at higher risk of developing autism.

Researchers used electroencephalography, or an EEG, to measure the brain waves of nearly 80 babies from the time they were six months old until they reached age two.  Researchers found those who were already known to be at higher risk for autism -- those who had an older sibling on the spectrum -- showed a different brain wave pattern than those with no known risk for the disorder.

Current tests to diagnose autism look at a child's change in behavior, which often becomes apparent when a child reaches around two years old.  Many experts say the earlier they can diagnose and start behavioral therapies, the easier it will be to manage the disorder.

According to the study, at as early as nine months old, many of the infants that were already shown to be at greater risk for autism showed abnormal activity in the front left side of the brain, which is involved in language and social development.

"Just as you can observe certain behaviors after a certain point that indicate a child has autism, this process is really bringing it back a little," said William Bosl, research scientist at Children's Hospital in Boston, instructor of pediatrics at Harvard medical school, and author of the study.

He said that the different brain wave pattern seen in the children with great risk factors "seems to be highly correlated with behaviors that will develop later."

Previous research has studied magnetic resonance imaging, or MRIs, and even magnetoencephalography, or MEGs, to see if changes in brain waves could potentially detect whether a child has autism.

But while initial results seemed promising, follow-up research could not reproduce consistent results.  And, as with EEGs, the findings are still too preliminary to convince some experts that the procedure will become a way to detect autism in children younger than two years old.

Copyright 2011 ABC News Radio


Support Services for Autistic Youth Diminish into Adulthood

Photo Courtesy - Getty Images(ST. LOUIS) -- New research has revealed that almost 40 percent of young adults who have autism spectrum disorders (ASD) get no medical or mental health services as they transition into adulthood.

The study, published in Archives of Pediatrics and Adolescent Medicine, showed differences along racial and socioeconomic lines as well.  African-American and poor youth (in families with household income less than $25,000) were less likely to receive services than white or middle-class youth.

"Young people with an ASD and their families are pushed off a cliff when students leave high school, where special education provides many needed services," said study author and assistant professor of social work at Washington University in St. Louis, Paul Shattuck.  He added that loss of these supportive services usually means reduced opportunities for autistic adults to be "productively engaged" in their communities.

Copyright 2011 ABC News Radio


British Researcher Wakefield Defends Link Between Vaccine, Autism

Photo Courtesy - ABC News(NEW YORK) -- Controversial British surgeon Dr. Andrew Wakefield defended allegations by authors that his research citing a possible link between the measles, mumps and rubella vaccine and autism were outright "fraudulent."

"There was no fraud, there was no falsification, there was no hoax," Wakefield told ABC News Monday.

Evidence Wakefield published in 1998 gave birth to the belief of a connection between vaccines and autism, which ignited a nationwide public health scare and a larger anti-vaccine movement.

But authors of the editorial published nearly two weeks ago in the British Medical Journal confirmed previous suggestions that Wakefield skewed patients' medical records to support his hypothesis that the widely-used measles, mumps and rubella (MMR) combination vaccine was causing autism and irritable bowel disease.

"The work certainly does raise a question mark over MMR vaccine," Wakefield said in a 1998 interview.

But editorial authors wrote, "clear evidence of falsification of data should now close the door on this damaging vaccine scare."

According to the editorial, Wakefield stood to gain financially from his purported findings because of his involvement in a lawsuit against manufacturers of the MMR vaccine.  British news reports said Wakefield was hired as a consultant by lawyers trying to sue the vaccine's manufacturers.  His compensation, they said, was about $750,000.

Wakefield denied on Monday any allegations of wrongdoing.  He said British reporter Brian Deers, who led the latest investigation unraveling Wakefield's research, used selective information from the study to build a case against Wakefield.

Copyright 2011 ABC News Radio


Shorter Gap Between Pregnancies Linked to Increased Autism Risk

Photo Courtesy - Getty Images(NEW YORK) -- The rising prevalence of autism in the United States suggests that environmental risk factors growing in prominence are at play.  New research adds to a growing body of evidence that the risk is conferred during pregnancy -- well before affected children show symptoms, such as impairments in communication and social interaction.

According to the study published in Pediatrics, children conceived within one year of a sibling were three times more likely to be diagnosed with autism than those conceived after three years or more.  The association held true even when the study authors controlled for variables such as parental age, preterm birth and low birth weight -- all factors known to increase autism risk.

"We've identified a really robust association," said Peter Bearman, director of the Lazarsfeld Center for the Social Sciences at Columbia University and senior author of the study.  "When you see something so robust and so stable, it provides an important clue as to what we should be looking at next."

The risk of autism among children conceived one-to-two years after an older sibling was almost double, the researchers reported.

The study focused on over 660,000 second-born sibling children born in California between 1992 and 2002.  During that period, the proportion of births occurring within 24 months of a previous birth increased from 11 percent to 18 percent, according to the researchers.

The mechanism by which closely spaced pregnancies may boost autism risk remains unclear, but the authors offered two possible explanations: autistic behaviors might be more noticeable when there's an older sibling close in age for comparison; or a biological factor, such as maternal depletion of nutrients like folate, -- important for brain development -- could put the developing fetus at risk.

Copyright 2011 ABC News Radio

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