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
Tuesday, April 9th, 2013
A rising number of schoolchildren are receiving diagnoses of an autism spectrum disorder (ASD), new data from the National Center for Health Statistics has found, but the findings don’t necessarily reflect a rise in the prevalence of autism. Two percent of U.S. schoolkids, or about 1 million children, report having received autism diagnoses. More from NBC News:
It’s a large increase since the last report but experts stress it doesn’t necessarily mean more children are developing autism.
Instead, the numbers suggests that more children are being diagnosed as they get older – probably because of many factors, including increased awareness and more services both to diagnose children and help them, the researchers said.
“Our findings suggest that the increase in prevalence may be due to increased recognition of autism spectrum disorders in recent years, especially when the symptoms were mild,” Stephen Blumberg of the National Center for Health Statistics, which published the report, said in a telephone interview.
“Parents are more aware. Professionals are more aware. There may be more access to diagnostic services.”
Autism describes a range of conditions and disorders – some of which a few years ago were not even recognized as conditions. It can range from the very mild social awkwardness seen in some cases of Asperger’s syndrome, to severe and debilitating symptoms that prevent children from interacting in a normal way, prevent learning and often require medication. Some children with autism were classified as mentally retarded in years past, while others struggled quietly with no idea they could benefit from therapy.
Parents should not worry that something new has been happening to kids, says Dr. Marshalyn Yeargin-Allsopp of the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, which is monitoring autism in several ways. “We don’t want them to be frightened by the numbers. We want them to recognize that there are things they can do that make a difference in their child’s life,” she said.
Image: School girl, via Shutterstock
Monday, April 8th, 2013
A new program at Minneapolis-St. Paul International Airport is trying to help take the anxiety out of air travel for families traveling with children who have an autism spectrum disorder (ASD). The program lets families come to the airport for a “dry run” that enables kids to see what will happen before travel day, taking the surprise element out of the complicated and potentially overwhelming experience of flying. More from Minneapolis’ KARE- 11 News:
“(They) really try to get over the sensory issues they’ll face like this, and hopefully have a good experience, and then when they do fly, they’ve already been through this,” said Dawn Brasch, with the Autism Society of Minnesota.
Volunteers lead the families through every step in the airport process, from security, to finding their way through the crowds, and even practicing the boarding process and finding their seats on a plane.
“Instead of doing it for the first time when there’s already added stress of going on vacation, it’s just like doing it again,” Nielsen said.
The Autism Society says it’s a helpful lesson not only for families, but for airport workers too.
“They don’t have the physical attributes of autism, you can’t just see it, so you don’t necessarily know when somebody’s coming through and they’re having a difficult time,” Brasch said.
Image: Mother and child at airport, via Shutterstock
Monday, April 1st, 2013
April has been National Autism Awareness Month since the 1970s, and Parents News Now will be marking the month with regular posts covering autism spectrum disorders (ASD) and its effects on families, schools, scientists, and communities alike. Last year, the month began with the startling news that 1 in 88 American children had an ASD diagnosis. Just a few weeks ago, new information was released, putting that number closer to 1 in 50 children diagnosed with autism.
Other recent news items on autism include:
Be sure to check back for posts tagged “Autism Awareness Month” throughout April, and feel free to email me at ParentsNewsNow@gmail.com with autism stories in your community that you think Parents.com’s readers should know about.
Image: Autism awareness ribbon, via Shutterstock
Friday, March 29th, 2013
Another study, this one from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, has found no connection between vaccines and autism spectrum disorders (ASD). This is the latest in a series of research studies that followed a highly controversial 1998 report in the British journal The Lancet, which alleged a causal link between vaccines and ASD. That article was recanted in 2010. More on the new CDC study from NBC News:
In the first six months of life, children receive as many as 19 vaccine doses of six different vaccines, and by the time they are 6 years old, a total of 25 doses from 10 vaccines.
In a 2011 survey, about a third of parents expressed concerns that their child received too many vaccines before age 2, and too many vaccines on a single day.
Previous studies have found no link between the number of vaccines a child receives and their risk of several neurological conditions (though these studies did not specifically consider autism).
The new study went a step further by looking at the link between a child’s total exposure to antigens — the proteins in vaccines that stimulate the body’s immune system — and his or her risk of autism.
The researchers looked at total antigen exposure rather than the total number of vaccines kids received because, at the root of parents’ concerns is the idea that “somehow they provide too much immunological stimulation, more so than a young child’s immune system can handle,” said study researcher Dr. Frank DeStefano, of the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. (The sheer number of vaccines would not be as good a measure of immunological response because vaccines contain different numbers of antigens, and some protect against more than one disease, DeStefano said.)
DeStefano and colleagues analyzed information from about 250 children with autism and 750 children without autism, born between 1994 and 1999.
Children with autism were exposed to about same total number of antigens as children without autism at ages 3 months, 7 months and 2 years. There was also no difference between the two groups in terms of the total number of antigens they were exposed to on a single day.
“Parental concerns that their children are receiving too many vaccines in the first two years of life, or too many vaccines at a single doctor visit are not supported in terms of an increased risk of autism,” the researchers write in the March 29 issue of the Journal of Pediatrics.
Previous CDC research has shown that most U.S. children–as high as 95 percent–still receive vaccines on the recommended schedule. In 2011, a study from the Institutes of Medicine also found no causal link between autism and vaccines.
Image: Baby receiving vaccine, via Shutterstock