Posts Tagged ‘ Autism ’

Oxytocin May Help Treat Anorexia, Autism

Friday, March 14th, 2014

Oxytocin, a chemical that is proving helpful in helping people with autism spectrum disorders (ASD), particularly in terms of their ability to read social cues, is being researched for its possible application in treating anorexia, a disorder which currently has no established medication.  More from Time.com:

Autism and anorexia have wildly different public faces. The stereotype of an autistic person is a little boy obsessed with trains or a brilliant coder with no social life, while the eating disorder victim is typically pictured as a driven young woman or girl, whose whole world revolves around presenting a carefully drawn picture of thinness and social perfection.

While stereotypes never capture the whole story, underlying both conditions is a rigid obsessiveness that appears within the first few years of life, as well as difficulties reading and responding appropriately to social signals. Not to mention, two of the major triggers for anorexia are a profound sense of alienation and sensitivity to social ranking, according to Dr. Janet Treasure, professor of psychiatry and director of the eating disorders unit at King’s College in London.

Evidence that oxytocin, a brain chemical also known as the “love hormone,” can help autistic people pay more attention to social cues and make socializing less stressful prompted Treasure to explore what effect it would have on anorexia. Now, three new studies of the hormone—best known for its role in bonding lovers to each other and parents to their children—suggest that it may indeed be a viable treatment for anorexia, which currently has no effective pharmacological medication and relies for the most part on therapy.

Image: Erasing anorexia, via Shutterstock

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Older Dads May Have Kids with Greater Mental Illness Risk

Thursday, February 27th, 2014

Mental illnesses, including schizophrenia, autism, and attention deficit hyperactivity disorder (ADHD), may be more common in children born to fathers who are “middle aged,” or age 45 and older, according to new research conducted in Sweden.  The New York Times has more:

In recent years, scientists have debated based on mixed evidence whether a father’s age is linked to his child’s vulnerability to individual disorders like autism and schizophrenia. Some studies have found strong associations, while others have found weak associations or none at all.

The new report, which looked at many mental disorders in Sweden, should inflame the debate, if not settle it, experts said. Men have a biological clock of sorts because of random mutations in sperm over time, the report suggests, and the risks associated with later fatherhood may be higher than previously thought. The findings were published on Wednesday in the journal JAMA Psychiatry.

“This is the best paper I’ve seen on this topic, and it suggests several lines of inquiry into mental illness,” said Dr. Patrick F. Sullivan, a professor of genetics at the University of North Carolina, who was not involved in the research. “But the last thing people should do is read this and say, ‘Oh no, I had a kid at 43, the kid’s doomed.’ The vast majority of kids born to older dads will be just fine.”

Dr. Kenneth S. Kendler, a professor of psychiatry and human molecular genetics at Virginia Commonwealth University, also urged caution in interpreting the results. “This is great work from a scientific perspective,” he said. “But it needs to be replicated, and biomedical science needs to get in gear and figure out what accounts for” the mixed findings of previous studies.

The strengths of the new report are size and rigor. The research team, led by Brian M. D’Onofrio of Indiana University, analyzed medical and public records of some 2.6 million people born in Sweden from 1973 to 2001. Like many European countries, Sweden has centralized medical care and keeps detailed records, so the scientists knew the father’s age for each birth and were able to track each child’s medical history over time, as well as that of siblings and other relatives. Among other things, the analysis compared the mental health of siblings born to the same father and found a clear pattern of increased risk with increasing paternal age.

Compared with the children of young fathers, aged 20 to 24, those born to men age 45 and older had about twice the risk of developing psychosis, the signature symptom of schizophrenia; more than three times the likelihood of receiving a diagnosis of autism; and about 13 times the chance of having a diagnosis of attention deficit disorder. Children born to older fathers also tended to struggle more with academics and substance abuse.

The researchers controlled for every factor they could think of, including parents’ education and income. Older couples tend to be more stable and have more income — both protective factors that help to temper mental problems — and this was the case in the study. But much of the risk associated with paternal age remained.

“We spent months trying to make the findings go away, looking at the mother’s age, at psychiatric history, doing sub-analyses,” Dr. D’Onofrio said. “They wouldn’t go away.”

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Treating Children with Psychiatric Disorders
Treating Children with Psychiatric Disorders
Treating Children with Psychiatric Disorders

Image: Older dad, via Shutterstock

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Kids Exposed to Brain-Harming Chemicals at Record Levels

Wednesday, February 19th, 2014

American children are exposed to at least double the levels of chemicals that are known to affect the brain in ways that are linked with disorders including autism, ADHD, and dyslexia–all disorders that have been on the rise in recent years.  Time.com reports on new research that has found radical changes in chemical exposure since 2006:

In 2006, scientists from the Harvard School of Public Health and the Icahn School of Medicine at Mount Sinai identified five industrial chemicals responsible for causing harm to the brain — lead, methylmercury, polychlorinated biphenyls (found in electric transformers, motors and capacitors), arsenic (found in soil and water as well as in wood preservatives and pesticides) and toluene (used in processing gasoline as well as in paint thinner, fingernail polish and leather tanning). Exposure to these neurotoxins was associated with changes in neuron development in the fetus as well as among infants, and with lower school performance, delinquent behavior, neurological abnormalities and reduced IQ in school-age children.

Now the same researchers have reviewed the literature and found six additional industrial chemicals that can hamper normal brain development. These are manganese, fluoride, chlorpyrifos, dichlorodiphenyltrichloroethane, tetrachloroethylene and polybrominated diphenyl ethers. Manganese, they say, is found in drinking water and can contribute to lower math scores and heightened hyperactivity, while exposure to high levels of fluoride from drinking water can contribute to a seven-point drop in IQ on average. The remaining chemicals, which are found in solvents and pesticides, have been linked to deficits in social development and increased aggressive behaviors.

The research team acknowledges that there isn’t a causal connection between exposure to any single chemical and behavioral or neurological problems — it’s too challenging to isolate the effects of each chemical to come to such conclusions. But they say the growing body of research that is finding links between higher levels of these chemicals in expectant mothers’ blood and urine and brain disorders in their children should raise alarms about how damaging these chemicals can be. The developing brain in particular, they say, is vulnerable to the effects of these chemicals, and in many cases, the changes they trigger are permanent.

“The consequence of such brain damage is impaired [central nervous system] function that lasts a lifetime and might result in reduced intelligence, as expressed in terms of lost IQ points, or disruption in behavior,” they write in their report, which was published in the journal Lancet Neurology.

They point to two barriers to protecting children from such exposures — not enough testing of industrial chemicals and their potential effect on brain development before they are put into widespread use, and the enormous amount of proof that regulatory agencies require in order to put restrictions or limitations on chemicals.

Image: Chemical pesticides, via Shutterstock

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Government Will Pay for GPS Devices for Autistic Kids

Friday, January 31st, 2014

The U.S. Justice Department has agreed to fund a program that would provide voluntary GPS tracking devices to children diagnosed with an autism spectrum disorder. The hope of the program, and legislation sponsored by New York Senator Charles Schumer, is the prevention of incidents in which autistic kids wander away from caregivers and are unable to communicate their way back to safety.

Schumer told The New York Times that the voluntary-use GPS tracking devices, which cost about $85 each plus small monthly fees, will be like those used to track people suffering from Alzheimer’s. The Justice Department already provides grants to help pay for Alzheimer’s patients’ devices.

More from NY1 News:

It comes on the heels of the disappearance and death of Avonte Oquendo.

The 14-year-old, who suffered from autism, exited his school in October.

His remains were found in the East River earlier this month.

Schumer pushed for legislation to provide GPS tracking devices for children with autism and other conditions, in which they tend to wander off from caregivers or parents.

The Justice Department has agreed to use grant funds to pay for the voluntary devices.

The news comes as new video surfaces of Avonte leaving his Long Island City school through a door that had been left ajar by someone exiting the school.

According to the Oquendo family attorney, it was left open for about a half hour before being closed by a school safety agent.

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

Image: School door, via Shutterstock

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Antidepressants During Pregnancy Not Linked with Autism in Children

Tuesday, December 24th, 2013

Babies born to mothers who took antidepressants during pregnancy are not any more likely to develop an autism spectrum disorder (ASD) than babies born to mothers who didn’t take the medication.  More from Reuters:

Women who take a common type of antidepressant during pregnancy are not more likely to have a child with autism, according to a new study from Denmark.

But children did have a higher than usual risk when their mothers took the drugs – known as selective serotonin reuptake inhibitors (SSRIs) – for depression or anxiety before becoming pregnant.

That suggests a possible link between a mother’s preexisting mental health issues and the developmental disorder that hinders social and communication skills.

“Our interpretation is that women with indications for SSRI use differ from women who do not use SSRIs because of these indications (depression, anxiety), and some of these differences are somehow related to an increased risk of having children who develop autism,” Dr. Anders Hviid said. He led the study at the Statens Serum Institute in Copenhagen.

“Whether these differences are genetic, social or something completely different is speculation at this point,” Hviid said.

The findings, combined with a separate analysis of the same database published last month in the journal Clinical Epidemiology, suggest people looking for a link between autism and SSRIs need to look elsewhere, Dr. Mark Zylka said.

Zylka, from the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill School of Medicine, has studied autism but was not involved in the analyses.

“There’s been a big question in the literature about whether these drugs affect brain development in any way and cause autism,” he told Reuters Health. That’s important because of how many people take antidepressants, including pregnant women.

Image: Pregnant woman taking pill, via Shutterstock

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