Posts Tagged ‘ autism spectrum disorders ’

Vaccines Cleared–Again–in Autism Risk Debate

Tuesday, July 1st, 2014

Since a 1998 article published in the medical journal The Lancet argued that childhood vaccines–specifically the measles, mumps, and rubella (MMR) vaccine–can cause autism spectrum disorders (ASD), debate has crested and fallen, ebbed and flowed.  Neither the retraction of the article–partially in 2004 and fully in 2010–nor the failure of any scientist since to replicate author Andrew Wakefield’s findings has dissuaded some who still believe that autism may be caused by vaccines.  In fact, earlier this year a study came out reporting that parents who are hesitant to vaccinate their children–partially or entirely because of the autism fear–are rarely persuaded to change their opinions even in the face of solid scientific evidence that vaccines do not cause autism.

Study after study has been published in the intervening years confirming no link between vaccines and autism.  Meanwhile, amid growing numbers of families who do not have their children vaccinated, outbreaks of measles and other preventable diseases are on the rise. This year, measles cases have reached a 20-year high, and whooping cough was declared an epidemic in California.

This week, a new study was published, once again vindicating vaccines of having any causal relationship with autism.  Published in the journal Pediatrics, the study reviewed a large of body of scientific findings and concluded that parents should be reassured about vaccines’ safety.  More from HealthDay News:

The researchers behind the new study also found no link between childhood leukemia and vaccines for MMR, DTaP (diphtheria, tetanus and pertussis), tetanus, influenza and hepatitis B.

Overall, vaccines given to children 6 or younger are safe, causing few side effects, the review concluded. The findings are published in the July 1 online edition and the August print issue of the journal Pediatrics.

“We found that the serious adverse effects linked to vaccines are extremely rare,” said lead author Margaret Maglione, a policy analyst at RAND Corporation.

These findings should provide solid support for pediatricians and family physicians in their discussions with parents about the benefits and risks of immunization, said Dr. Carrie Byington, a professor of pediatrics and vice dean of academic affairs and faculty development at the University of Utah College of Medicine.

In an accompanying editorial, Byington noted recent medical school graduates have reported themselves more skeptical of the safety and effectiveness of vaccines than did older graduates.

“I’m hopeful younger physicians who have not seen the devastating vaccine preventable infections may see the data and strengthen their will to communicate the importance of vaccines to parents,” Byington said.

The Vaccine Schedule
The Vaccine Schedule
The Vaccine Schedule

Image: Child getting vaccine, via Shutterstock

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Autism Linked to Pesticide Exposure During Pregnancy

Tuesday, June 24th, 2014

Pregnant women who are exposed to chemical pesticides, especially those used to treat large farm fields, may be more likely to have babies who are later diagnosed with an autism spectrum disorder (ASD) or other developmental delay.  A new study conducted at the University of California Davis reported these findings–the third major study to link pesticide exposure with autism rates–but stopped short of saying that pesticide exposure is definitely a cause of ASD.

The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention’s latest numbers suggest that 1 in 68 American children has an autism spectrum disorder, with its causes remaining one of the most vexing mysteries in modern medicine.  The debate over whether vaccines cause autism is ongoing despite copious research disproving any link, and a recent British study found that genetics may play as much of a role as whether a child is autistic as environmental exposure does.

Reuters has more on the new study, which was conducted in California where agricultural pesticide use is carefully reported and mapped:

For the new study, the researchers used those maps to track exposures during pregnancy for the mothers of 970 children.

The children included 486 with an autism spectrum disorder (ASD), 168 with a developmental delay and 316 with typical development.

….

In the new study, about a third of mothers had lived within a mile of fields treated with pesticides, most commonly organophosphates.

Children of mothers exposed to organophosphates were 60 percent more likely to have an ASD than children of non-exposed mothers, the authors report in Environmental Health Perspectives.

Early Signs of Autism
Early Signs of Autism
Early Signs of Autism

Image: Tractor spraying a field, via Shutterstock

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Parents of an Autistic Child Often Decide Not to Have More Kids

Monday, June 23rd, 2014

A new study conducted by University of California researchers has found that parents who have a child diagnosed with an autism spectrum disorder (ASD) often choose not to have more children, citing the energy, expense, and complicated logistics required to care for an autistic child.  More from HealthDay News:

In the study, a team led by Neil Risch of the University of California, San Francisco, looked at nearly 20,000 families in California. All of the families included a child with autism born between 1990 and 2003.

These families were compared to a “control” group of more than 36,000 families that did not have a child with autism.

Parents whose first child had autism were about one-third less likely to have a second child than parents in the control group, the study found, while parents who had a later-born child with autism were equally less likely to have more children.

The researchers also found that parents of children with autism were likely to continue having other children until the child with autism began showing signs of or was diagnosed with the disorder. This suggests that not having more children is a decision made by parents, rather than a reproductive problem, the study authors said.

According to Risch’s team, in calculating the risk to families of having a second child with autism, most prior studies on the issue have ignored the fact that many families with an autistic child may have already made the decision to stop reproducing. That means the real risk of having a second child with autism may be higher than has been generally thought, they noted.

So, in the new study, Risch’s team accounted for the decision by some couples to stop having kids after they had already had a child with autism. When that factor was taken into account, there was about a one in 10 chance that the parents of child with autism who did decide to have more children would have a second child with autism, the investigators found.

The study was published June 18 in the journal JAMA Psychiatry.

“While it has been postulated that parents who have a child with [autism] may be reluctant to have more children, this is first time that anyone has analyzed the question with hard numbers,” Risch, a professor of epidemiology and biostatistics at UCSF, said in a university news release.

He believes that the “findings have important implications for genetic counseling of affected families.”

Study co-author Lisa Croen, an epidemiologist and director of the Autism Research Program at Kaiser Permanente Northern California, noted, “unfortunately, we still don’t know what causes autism, or which specific conditions make it more likely.”

And, she added, “We are hoping that further research will enable us to identify both effective treatment strategies and, ultimately, modifiable causes of the disorder, so parents won’t have to curtail their families for fear of having another affected child.”

Image: Boy at a playground, via Shutterstock

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Autism Can Cost Families $2 Million Over a Lifetime

Wednesday, June 11th, 2014

The lifetime cost of supporting someone with an autism spectrum disorder (ASD) can exceed $2 million, according to a new study published in the journal JAMA Pediatrics.  More from The Huffington Post:

The study, published in JAMA Pediatrics on Monday and funded by the nonprofit Autism Speaks, suggests that autism’s financial toll on individuals, families and society as a whole is “much higher than previously suggested,” its authors write, and includes direct medical, educational and residential costs, as well as indirect costs such as lost wages.

“We took all of the data we could find that had been published on costs and synthesized it to come up with an estimate,” researcher David Mandell, director of the Center for Mental Health Policy and Services Research at the University of Pennsylvania, told The Huffington Post.

“The lifetime cost of individuals with ASD and no intellectual disabilities was $1.4 million — and that’s in addition to the costs that would accrue with a typically-developing child,” Mandell said. “It’s $2.4 million for individuals with intellectual disabilities.” (According to estimates cited in the report, between 40 and 60 percent of people with autism spectrum disorders also have an intellectual disability, characterized by limitations in intellectual function and adaptive behaviors, including social and practical skills.)

On average, the cost for children with autism and an intellectual disability in the U.S. was more than $107,800 per year up to age 5, and roughly $85,600 per year between ages 6 and 17. Among children with no diagnosed intellectual disabilities, the associated costs were lower: approximately $63,290 per year for those 5 and under, and $52,205 per year for those between 6 and 17.

The top average annual cost was special education, followed by parents’ productivity losses and medical expenses, including inpatient, outpatient, emergency, home health care, pharmacy and out-of-pocket costs.

“I was surprised that the second-highest cost in childhood was lost wages for parents leaving work to care for children with autism,” said Mandell. “Normally, when we look at expenses, we’re looking at system-level expenses, education costs … We’re so rarely looking at more indirect costs.”

Image: Money, via Shutterstock

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Environment, Genes May Carry Equal Weight in Autism

Monday, May 5th, 2014

The environmental factors a child are exposed to may hold as much weight as genetics in predicting whether that child develops an autism spectrum disorder (ASD), according to a new British study.  More from Reuters:

Sven Sandin, who worked on the study at King’s College London and Sweden’s Karolinska institute, said it was prompted “by a very basic question which parents often ask: ‘If I have a child with autism, what is the risk my next child will too?’”

The findings, published in the Journal of the American Medical Association (JAMA), suggest heritability is only half the story, with the other 50 percent explained by environmental factors such as birth complications, socio-economic status, or parental health and lifestyle.

The study also found that children with a brother or sister with autism are 10 times more likely to develop the condition, three times if they have a half-brother or sister with autism, and twice as likely if they have a cousin with autism.

“At an individual level, the risk of autism increases according to how close you are genetically to other relatives with autism,” said Sandin. “We can now provide accurate information about autism risk which can comfort and guide parents and clinicians in their decisions.”

People with autism have varying levels of impairment across three common areas: social interaction and understanding, repetitive behavior and interests, and language and communication.

The exact causes of the neurodevelopmental disorder are unknown, but evidence has shown it is likely to include a range of genetic and environmental risk factors.

Image: Baby, via Shutterstock

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Early Signs of Autism
Early Signs of Autism
Early Signs of Autism

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