(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