Thursday, April 25th, 2013
Pregnant women who use an anti-epilepsy drug called valproate have babies that are 5 times more likely to be diagnosed with an autism spectrum disorder (ASD), according to a new study published in the April 24 issue of the Journal of the American Medical Association. More from CBS News:
“This is an important risk factor and one that can be avoided or at least the risk reduced in women who don’t need to take this and can take another drug,” Dr. Kimford Meador, a professor of neurology at Emory University in Atlanta, said to Businessweek. Meador wrote an accompanying editorial published in the same journal issue. “This is the strongest evidence to date that there is a link between fetal exposure and childhood autism or autism spectrum disorder.”
The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention now estimates that 1 in 50 school age children may have an autism spectrum disorder (ASD). ASDs are a group of developmental brain disorders that affect social, communication and behavioral development. The disorders can range in severity from people with milder symptoms — called Asperger syndrome — to those with autistic disorder or “classic” autism.
Researchers looked at 665,615 babies born in Denmark between 1996 and 2006. The children were followed for an average of 8.8 years. Out of the group, 5,437 were diagnosed with an autism spectrum disorder, and 2,067 were diagnosed with childhood autism specifically.
The researchers found that mothers of 2,644 children took anti-epileptic drugs during pregnancy, with 508 specifically taking valproate. They determined that valproate was linked to an absolute risk of 4.42 percent for an ASD and 2.5 percent for childhood autism.
For women who had epilepsy who did not take valproate, the absolute risk of having a child with an ASD was 2.44 percent, with 1.2 percent receiving a diagnosis of childhood autism.
In January 2013, a British study of 415 children also linked autism to mothers taking valproate. Those results were published in the Journal of Neurology, Neurosurgery & Psychiatry.
“Women for whom valproate is a treatment option should discuss the risks and benefits of this drug with their doctor prior to pregnancy, to ensure that their health and that of the potential child is optimized,” Rebecca Bromley, a clinical psychologist and research associate at the University of Liverpool who led the British study, told HealthDay.
Image: Pregnant woman, via Shutterstock
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Monday, December 3rd, 2012
In a move that is sure to elicit strong opinions in parents of autistic children, the American Psychiatric Association has approved proposed changes to the new edition of the Diagnostic Statistical Manual (DSM) that will eliminate an independent diagnosis of “Asperger’s Disorder” and include Asperger’s kids within the diagnostic label of “autism spectrum disorder.” The Associated Press has more:
“One of the most hotly argued changes was how to define the various ranges of autism. Some advocates opposed the idea of dropping the specific diagnosis for Asperger’s disorder. People with that disorder often have high intelligence and vast knowledge on narrow subjects but lack social skills. Some who have the condition embrace their quirkiness and vow to continue to use the label.
And some Asperger’s families opposed any change, fearing their kids would lose a diagnosis and no longer be eligible for special services.
But the revision will not affect their education services, experts say.
The new manual adds the term “autism spectrum disorder,” which already is used by many experts in the field. Asperger’s disorder will be dropped and incorporated under that umbrella diagnosis. The new category will include kids with severe autism, who often don’t talk or interact, as well as those with milder forms.”
The Asperger’s changes are not the only ones that will appear in the new edition of the DSM, which will be published in May. Another major change is the addition of the diagnosis of DMDD, or disruptive mood dysregulation disorder, which will be given to children who have severe and recurrent temper tantrums.
The new edition is the 5th for the DSM. The last edition was published in 1994.
Image: Girl with psychiatrist, via Shutterstock
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Wednesday, October 3rd, 2012
Proposed changes to the way autism spectrum disorders (ASD) are diagnosed have been on the minds of parents who worry that the new language, distinguishing, for example, between autism and Asperger syndrome, will lead to fewer services for a large number of kids. A new report, however, has found that the impact is likely to far far less than feared. From The New York Times:
Earlier research had estimated that 45 percent or more of children currently on the “autism spectrum” would not qualify under a new definition now being refined by psychiatric researchers — a finding that generated widespread anxiety among parents who rely on state-financed services for their children. The new report, posted online Tuesday by The American Journal of Psychiatry, concluded that the number who would be excluded is closer to 10 percent.
The finding may soothe the anxieties of some parents, but will not likely settle the debate over the effect of the new diagnosis.
All sides agree that the proposed criteria are narrower and will likely result in fewer diagnoses of autism, but until doctors begin using the new definition widely, the predictions of its effect are just that: predictions.
The debate has simmered over the past year as an expert panel appointed by the American Psychiatric Association has updated its proposals for the association’s Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders, scheduled to take effect in May 2013. The manual is the field’s standard reference, and several recent studies suggested that the amended autism definition was far narrower than intended.
“What I would say to families worried about the new criteria is that they’re more open-ended than the old ones,” said Catherine Lord, the senior researcher on the study. “So it’s very important to find a clinician who understands them, and who is not rushed when making a diagnosis.”
Image: Boy with teacher, via Shutterstock
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Monday, April 23rd, 2012
An article in the Pensacola News Journal highlights a national debate facing schools: how much can children with Asperger syndrome (an autism spectrum disorder, or ASD) be fully integrated into regular classrooms without making learning difficult for students without the disability?
Children with Asperger’s, as opposed to some other forms of ASD, are often quite intelligent and able to handle the schoolwork without incident. But they do have behavioral problems, ranging from repetitive behaviors to problems socializing to sensitivity to things like noises or lights. These issues can take up a lot of a teacher’s time, which heightens the debate.
The News Journal reports on how the issue is playing out in Florida:
Changes at the state level in how classes are categorized will put more special education students into more regular classrooms than ever before.
Many teachers and parents worry that all children — particularly students who just get by in their classes — may not get the attention they need in an inclusion classroom, because students with disabilities — students like [13-year-old] Dylan [Harris] — need extra attention.
“I think it’s a fair concern,” [Regina] Harris [Dylan's mother] said. “General (education) teachers typically aren’t trained very much to work with children with behavior issues. That’s opening a can of worms.”
Image: Students on a school bus, via Shutterstock.
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Tuesday, April 17th, 2012
A group of Boston-based comedians calling themselves “Asperger’s Are Us” are taking to the comedy stage in spite of–or because of–their lives with Asperger syndrome, an autism spectrum disorder (ASD). USA Today reports that the four-man troupe, whose ages range from 18 to 29, are getting hired more this month because April is Autism Awareness Month. But they actually feel that their Asperger’s fuels their comedy:
Many traits the public has long found engaging or amusing have their roots — perhaps surprisingly — in Asperger’s. The absurdity of Monty Python, the flat demeanor of Star Trek‘s Mr. Spock and the awkwardness of Andy Kaufman, are all common Aspergian traits. Dr. Sheldon Cooper on Big Bang Theory gets laughs for those characteristics, too.
“In the last few years, Asperger’s has become recognized as a foundation for some elements of comedy,” said John Elder Robison, a nationally renowned Asperger’s advocate, and author of Be Different. “All of a sudden there is a broad public awareness that the reason for behavioral differences in those characters would probably be called Asperger’s.”
Image: Microphone, via Shutterstock.
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