Friday, June 28th, 2013
Highly interconnected networks of nerves in the brain may be a marker of autism spectrum disorder (ASD) that will allow researchers to identify the condition in very young children. A new study published in the journal JAMA Psychiatry has made this finding, building on research from a year ago that found a non-invasive EEG test could identify unique brain patterns in the brains of autistic 2-year-olds. The new finding is promising for the ability of doctors to identify ASD at its earliest stages, which would allow interventions and treatments to begin as early as possible. More from Time.com:
Add a Comment
A highly interconnected brain could mean that signals zooming from sensory nerves to other networks become too overwhelming to parse apart and process, which researchers believe is a hallmark of the autistic brain. And in a study published in JAMA Psychiatry, Stanford University researchers report that this pattern of hyperconnectivity in some brain areas could provide a fingerprint for autism that helps doctors to recognize the condition at its earliest stages.
The scientists scanned the brains of 20 autistic children who ranged in age from 7 to 12 and also imaged 20 typically developing children of the same age for comparison. They found stronger connections within many critical brain networks in the autistic children, including those responsible for introspection, vision and movement.
They also saw more robust links in networks that help the brain to triage the flood of incoming information from both our bodies and our environment that assaults us constantly. Called the salience network, it’s responsible for determining which internal or external sensations need our immediate attention. Using a computer program that the researchers developed to make sense of the brain imaging data, they found that by mapping the salience network alone, they could accurately classify autistic or non-autistic children in their study 78% of the time — and could do so 83% of the time using data from other researchers.
“That’s wonderful,” says Kamila Markram, the Autism Project Director at the Brain Mind Institute of the EPFL, a federal technology institute in Lausanne, Switzerland, who was not associated with the research, “We must move toward biological markers for autism and not just rely on interviews and observations by people.” Markram previously published animal research suggesting that hyperconnectivity may be involved in autism.
Moreover, the more strongly connected the salience network was in autistic children, the worse symptoms they had in terms of repetitive behaviors like rocking and restricted interests such as being obsessed with computers or the periodic table of elements. The findings suggest that from an early age, children with autism develop differently from those without the condition, and that these changes may be detectable through brain imaging.
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
Add a Comment
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
Add a Comment
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
Add a Comment
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
Add a Comment