Twin Studies on Autism: Less Genetic, More Womb Environment
August 2, 2011 · Posted in Autism, Parenting, The Environment · Permalink · Comments Off
A recent study conducted by Joachim Hallmayer, M.D., from Stanford University School of Medicine, indicates that contrary to the common belief that Autistic Spectrum Disorder (ASD) is chiefly inherited, the prenatal environment seems to play a larger role.The study, which looked specifically at identical vs. non-identical twins, showed that non-identical twins, or dizygotic twins, who do not share the exact same genetic material, were highly likely to both have ASD. This was a very thorough and stringent research model, the first to “include structured clinical assessments by both parental interview and direct child observation, which is the contemporary standard for establishing the diagnosis of autism or ASD”.

Ramifications of this study are profound. Most money for autism research is directed towards understanding underlying genetic factors. This study shows that research into the womb environment is critical. Genetics are unchangeable, but if we can identify toxins in the womb we can hopefully change the rising trend of autism.

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Winter Conception Linked to Autism
May 24, 2011 · Posted in Autism, Parenting, Pregnancy, Toddlerhood · Permalink · Comments Off

A study in the journal, Epidemiology,  reports that babies conceived during winter had a significantly greater risk of autism.  The study examined the birth records of more than six million children born in California during the 1990s and early 2000s.

The risk of having a child with an autism spectrum disorder grew progressively throughout the fall and winter to early spring with children conceived in March having a 16 percent greater risk of later autism diagnoses, when compared with July conceptions.

The researchers said the finding suggests that environmental factors, for example, exposure to seasonal viruses like influenza, might play a role in the greater risk they found of children conceived during the winter having autism.

“The study finding was pronounced even after adjusting for factors such as maternal education, race/ethnicity, and the child’s year of conception,” said lead study author Ousseny Zerbo, a fifth-year doctoral student in the graduate group in epidemiology in the Department of Public Health Sciences in the UC Davis School of Medicine.

The study found that the overall risk of having a child with autism increased from month to month during the winter through the month of March. For the study, winter was considered the months of December, January and February. Each month was compared with July with an 8 percent higher incidence in December, increasing to 16 percent higher in March.

Earlier studies’ findings about autism risk and month of conception or birth have had varied results. Some, such as ones conducted in Israel, Sweden, and Denmark, have found an increased risk of autism for children born in March. Studies conducted in Canada, Japan, the United States, and the United Kingdom identified an increased risk of autism for children born in the spring. However, these studies were far smaller, most having a few hundred cases of autism, when compared with the large number in California.

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Autism and Spacing Babies
April 14, 2011 · Posted in Autism, Parenting, Pregnancy · Permalink · Comments Off

A recent study conducted gives important data on the relationship between autism and spacing out the births of your children. Here is Dr. Nestor Lopez-Duran of Child Psychology Research Blog’s summary of the research.

A team from Columbia University was interested in examining the link between Inter Pregnancy Interval (e.g., time between pregnancies; IPI) and autism. IPI is important because short intervals between pregnancies (e.g., having kids too close together) is associated with specific physiological factors that have been linked to developmental problems, such as low birth weight, prematurity, etc.

For the study, the researchers examined all births in California from 1992 to 2002. They were able to identify 662,730 sibling pairs for which they had information about the timing of the pregnancies. That is, they identified the number of months between the births of the first and the second sibling. They then obtained a large number of demographic and clinical information such as race/ethnicity, gestational age of the pregnancies, paternal age, etc. They were also able to gather information about the autism diagnosis of these children from the Department of Developmental Services (DDS) records.

A total of 3,137 second-born siblings with autism were identified. An important characteristic of this study is that the DDS does not provide services to children with only PDD-NOS or Asperger’s. Therefore the results are specific to the presence of full autism.

The authors then calculated whether the probability of having autism among second-born siblings changed as a function of the number of months that lapsed since the birth of the first-born sibling.

The probability that the second-born child had autism was very high if the time between pregnancies was under 12 months. In contrast, the probability was lower if the time between pregnancies was longer than 24 months.

The numbers below give you an even better picture. Once you control for a number of factors such as child’s sex, parental age, etc etc, having pregnancies close together greatly increased the risk for autism in the second-born child. Specifically:

- Children born less than 12 months after their siblings were close to 300% more likely to have autism when compared to second-born children born 48 months after the first sibling.

- Children born between 12 and 23 months after their siblings were 110% more likely to have autism when compared to second-born children born 48 months after the first sibling.

- Children born between 24 and 35 months after their siblings were 42% more likely to have autism when compared to second-born children born 48 months after the first sibling.

The risk finally stabilized at 36 months. Specifically, being born 36 months after their siblings did not increase or decrease the chance of autism as compared to kids born 48 months after their siblings. Likewise, being born many many months after their siblings (for example more than 84 months) did not reduce the chance of having autism as compared to those born 36 months after their siblings.

This suggests that waiting 36 months between pregnancies would reduce the risk of autism but waiting longer provides no added benefit.

Now the really interesting question is why. What is the mechanism that could explain this finding?

The authors suggest that a likely cause may be folate depletion. Short time between pregnancies is associated with nutritional depletion and folate depletion in particular. Folate is a critical nutrient needed during pregnancy for DNA synthesis and levels of maternal folate decline drastically during the 12 months after having a child.

Here is an useful article from the National Institutes of Health about folate

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Peek-A-Boo As Medicine For Autism
November 11, 2010 · Posted in Autism, Infant Development, Parenting, Toddlerhood · Permalink · Comments Off

Autism rates in the US are 1 in 110 children according to the Center for Disease control. Lack of eye contact and smiling in babies and toddlers are signs of autism. In many ways autism is a disorder of social/emotional connection, so it makes sense that early symptoms are found in the arena of intimate face to face contact and play. The Early Start Denver Model is an intervention program of daily therapy involving social games and pretend play for children with a diagnosis of Autistic Spectrum Disorder. Results of randomized trials of the therapy are reported in the journal Pediatrics and show gains in IQ and adaptive behavior.

This highlights the importance of interactive social games as the underpinnings for the healthy development of all children. What seem like the old and silly games of Peek-a boo, chase, and the slow, high-pitched “Parent-ese” speak may seem “babyish”, but this is exactly what all babies thrive on. If you are concerned about your baby’s social interactivity in the first year, consult your doctor, but on the home front the immediate presciption is for peek a boo.

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Viral Science Gone Viral: The Truth About Vaccines
February 16, 2010 · Posted in Autism, Infant Development, Parenting, Toddlerhood · Permalink · Comments (1)

stickyantiboThere has been so much controversy and worry in the last ten years about vaccinating babies.  Much of the reason for this began with a 1998 paper in the reputable medical journal Lancet. The paper, by Dr. Andrew Wakefield, linked autism to the MMR vaccine.

That hypothesis, the rise in autism and the media’s amplification of both spread the link between vaccines and autism like wild fire. Cynicism about the pharmaceutical industry and our health care system was the gasoline on that fire.

Parents, frightened over their child’s well being, delayed or even refused to vaccinate their children. So here is some important news for parents. Lancet has recently issued a public retraction of this paper.  NPR reports, “…an official British medical investigation found Wakefield’s methods, quote, ‘dishonest and irresponsible.'” Imagine how many parents have unnecessarily worried and how many children were not vaccinated in the last ten years because of bad science.

Click on the link below to hear a clear, interesting and sound report from NPR’s Morning Edition on the state of vaccines today.

Vaccines’ Benefits Trump Concerns, Experts Say

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