Wednesday, March 20th, 2013
The latest statistics on the number of U.S. children affected by autism spectrum disorders (ASD) shows a rise even from last year, with 1 in 50 school-aged children affected. The numbers come from the National Center for Health Statistics, and they are even more alarming than the data released last year by the Centers for Disease Control, which estimated 1 in 88 U.S. kids to have autism. USA Today has more on the new information, as researchers ponder whether the data reflects rising autism occurrence, or better diagnostic tools:
The present study asked 100,000 parents across the country a range of health questions, including whether their child had been diagnosed on the autism spectrum and whether he or she currently had the diagnosis. The autism spectrum includes autism, the most severe form, as well as Asperger’s syndrome and pervasive developmental disorder-not otherwise specified (PDD-NOS).
The study looked at children ages 6-17 and was based on parent reports, while last year’s study looked at 8-year-olds whose diagnosis was noted in school district or other official records.
The fact that the new study found such high rates implies that “there will likely be more demand for (autism-related) services than we had previously thought,” said study author Stephen J. Blumberg, a senior scientist at the National Center for Health Statistics.
The new study, like most others, found that boys are four times more likely to have autism than girls.
The parents’ answers to the two survey questions also suggests that 15% to 20% of children who were once diagnosed with autism no longer have the condition. Blumberg said the study cannot say whether they lost the diagnosis because they outgrew the condition, or because they were misdiagnosed in the first place.
The higher numbers recorded in the new study suggest that officials are getting better at counting kids with autism – not that more have the condition, several experts said.
“I don’t see any evidence that there’s a true increase in the prevalence of autism,” said Roy Richard Grinker, a professor of anthropology at George Washington University, Washington, D.C.
Image: Boy, via Shutterstock
Friday, January 18th, 2013
The dream of every parent of a child with an autism spectrum disorder (ASD)–improvement to the point where the child no longer meets the diagnostic criteria for the disorder–is actually within reach for a small group of ASD patients, a new study led by researchers at the University of Connecticut has found. As Richard Rende writes in his Parents.com blog, Red Hot Parenting, the new study is the best clinical evidence to date that recovery is an option for some with ASD. From Richard’s post analyzing the new study:
A team of researchers (led by Dr. Deborah Fein at the University of Connecticut) identified 34 individuals with suspected recovery who had a clear documented history of ASD, but no longer met diagnostic criteria for it. By comparing this group to two other groups – a high-functioning ASD group (44 individuals), and a typical development group without ASD (34 individuals) – the study reported these two key findings:
- The 34 potential recovery cases not only no longer met criteria for ASD, but in fact lost all symptoms of ASD
- Their social and communicative functioning was within the nonautistic range (and as a group similar to the typical development group)
The study authors suggested the phrase “optimal outcome” for these individuals to convey the idea that their overall functioning across multiple domains was in the normative range. There was a wide age range in the sample – from 8 to 21 years – and the conclusion was that some children with a diagnosis and history of autism may in fact go on to experience an optimal outcome later in development.
More reports will come in the future from this research group on this sample. In particular, they will be analyzing collected data on intervention history to see if there were commonalities in those who experienced an optimal outcome. They will also be looking at psychiatric data to examine the possibility that some with optimal outcome experience anxiety, depression, and impulsivity.
For more on autism “recovery,” see this related Parents News Now story from last April: Study: Ten Percent of Kids ‘Bloom’ Out of Autism.
Image: Autism awareness ribbon, via Shutterstock
Monday, December 10th, 2012
A new blood test is being examined to see whether it can detect genetic markers that can identify autism spectrum disorders (ASD). If successful, the test would greatly improve doctors’ ability to diagnose the disorders–and begin interventions–earlier. More from CNN.com:
“In a study published in the journal PLOS ONE, researchers from Children’s Hospital Boston describe a new experimental test to detect the developmental disorder, based on the differences in gene expression between kids with autism spectrum disorder (ASD) and those without the condition.
The blood-based test appears to predict autism relatively accurately, at least among boys, and has already been licensed to a company, SynapDx, for commercial development. In an e-mail statement to TIME, a spokeswoman for SynapDx said the company plans to start clinical trials of the new test in early 2013.
The new blood test for autism is intriguing, researchers say, because it seems to be at least as effective as any other genetic test for autism that doctors currently use. Scientists believe that autism has some genetic basis, based on genes that have been associated with the disorder, and the fact that the condition seems to run in families.
“A week does not go by where you don’t hear about a genetic mutation that has been linked to autism in at least a few families,” says Isaac Kohane, a pediatric endocrinologist and computer scientist at Children’s Hospital Boston, and the senior study author on the new article in PLOS ONE. Kohane is a scientific adviser for SynapDx, but says he does not own any stock in the company.
But autism is a complex condition, he says, with many possible genetic determinants. And the precise genetic mechanism, or more likely mechanisms, are still poorly understood.”
Image: Blood test tubes, via Shutterstock
Friday, July 27th, 2012
In a survey of the field of research on autism spectrum disorders (ASD), biologist Emily Willingham has concluded that rising rates of autism among children may be a question of new diagnostic techniques rather than an actual rise in the number of cases of ASD. For example, children who would have received a diagnosis of an intellectual disability in 1990 would today likely be diagnosed with ASD. From Boston.com:
That kind of change is called “diagnostic substitution,” Willingham explains, and it accounts for a lot of the rise in autism diagnoses. And there’s a lot of other, corroborating evidence, too. If autism were on the rise, you’d expect there to be more autistic children that autistic adults. Adults, though, don’t tend to be screened for autism — and when you do screen them, you find that the prevalence of autism is about the same among adults as it is among kids (1%). That suggests that autism isn’t on the rise. And that prevalence is the same all over the world, despite the fact that that the environmental factors which often take the blame for the rise in autism are unevenly distributed.
Image: Toddler on a swing, via Shutterstock.
Tuesday, June 12th, 2012
A failed freezer at McLean Hospital, which is affiliated with Harvard University, has resulted in severe damage to one-third of the world’s largest collection of autism brain samples. The debacle, according to The Boston Globe, could set back autism research by decades:
An official at the renowned brain bank in Belmont discovered that the freezer had shut down in late May, without triggering two alarms. Inside, they found 150 thawed brains that had turned dark from decay; about a third of them were part of a collection of autism brains.
“This was a priceless collection,’’ said Dr. Francine Benes, director of the Harvard Brain Tissue Resource Center, where the brains were housed. “You can’t express its value in dollar amounts,’’ said Benes, who is leading one of two internal investigations into the freezer failure.
The damage to these brains could slow autism research by a decade as the collection is restored, said Carlos Pardo, a neuropathologist and associate professor of neurology at Johns Hopkins University.
The collection, owned by the advocacy and research organization Autism Speaks, “yields very, very important information that allows us to have a better understanding of what autism is, as well as the contribution of environmental and immune factors,’’ said Pardo, whose 2004 study of brains stored in the bank was the first to find that autism involves the immune system. “The benefit has been great.’’
Image: Lab equipment, via Shutterstock.