Archive for February, 2017

Recent Research about MRIs for Autism

Sunday, February 26th, 2017

Since the outbreak of autism, various attempts have been made to utilize modern imaging techniques to provide a more precise diagnosis. Here are two recent stories that warrant recognition and comment.

Relationship between brain stem volume and aggression in children diagnosed with autism spectrum disorder is not the first of its kind to describe an inverse correlation between the size of that part of the central nervous system and ASD. However, it is the first to possibly relate increased aggression with a measurable parameter.

One expert describes, “The brain stem serves as a bridge in the nervous system. All the fibers that go from the body to the brain and vice versa go through the brain stem. It sits at the top of the spinal column in the center of the brain… handles basic functions like breathing, swallowing, heart rate, blood pressure, sleeping and vomiting. The brain stem does not play a part in higher cognitive functions…”

The authors concluded, “Understanding brain differences in individuals with ASD who engage in aggressive behavior from those with ASD who do not can inform treatment approaches.” Indeed, disruptive behaviors describe a type of autism that is particularly difficult to address, and may even require potent medications.

The second article was Early brain development in infants at high risk for autism spectrum disorder, in Nature. The research revealed that surface area enlargement between 6 and 12 months precedes brain volume overgrowth observed between 12 and 24 months, which was linked to the emergence and severity of autistic social deficits. “These findings demonstrate that early brain changes occur during the period in which autistic behaviors are first emerging.”

The good
Both investigations serve to encourage the idea that timely detection leads to earlier intervention, which leads to improved outcomes. Even that obvious fact continues to be debated in some forums.

The bad
These studies are descriptive, and so they do not provide answers about cause and effect, form as relates to function, underlying genetic, nutritional or toxic states. There are many presentations of the condition, and research generally tries to get as homogeneous a group as possible – perhaps not representative of a larger group. More information is required to deduce practicality or therapeutic intervention.

The ugly
Emily Willingham, ‘science’ writer at Forbes.com, used the latter study to ‘prove’ and promote her vaccines-are-safe-for-all-kids campaign. Not a word about ‘shots’ was mentioned in the entire article, and this pro-inoculation zealot found a way to insert that thought into unsuspecting readers, in her piece entitled, “An Unexpected Takeaway From The Early Autism Diagnosis Study”. Yep, Em, that was unexpected!

Conclusion
One investigation delineated decreased brain size in one region, and the other demonstrated increased overall brain volume. A recent paper about neuro-imaging technology offered this advice: “… heterogeneous and definitive neural correlates in ASD have yet to be identified… findings from multiple independent neuroimaging meta-analyses in ASD appear discrepant…”

Such research represents further attempts to explain the medical issues. This should encourage other universities and research institutions to explore these topics, as well.

As is frequently the case, for now, the use of MRI technology to elucidate the pathophysiology and diagnosis of ASD deserves further study.

What to Expect from Biomedical Treatment for Autism and ADHD

Tuesday, February 21st, 2017

As in any medical condition, it is entirely fair for parents to inquire about the timing of improvements, after undertaking biomedical intervention to improve signs and symptoms in their children who are affected with ASD. “How will we know if it’s working? When will my child get better?”

Factors affecting speed of recovery
How severely the child scores, according a standardized test for autism, is a major factor in assessing the time it may take for reversal of symptoms. For those in denial, this can be a wake-up call. For the parent who ‘already knew’, it represents a starting point. The time that it will take to observe improvement is generally proportional; from mildly affected to very disturbed development, taking from 6 months to many years until improvement is noted.

Perhaps interestingly, children who score very ‘low’ (few autistic characteristics) may turn out to take more time than might be expected. That could be due to the mysterious nature of their particular developmental delay, and ‘putting our finger’ on how to address individual obstacles takes investigation and various trials.

The degree of a child’s inability to communicate – from the severity of speech apraxia to social isolation – is proportional to the time it will take for advancement. Whether due to biomedical intervention, or just maturation, it becomes extremely worrisome if this achievement takes more than 18 months. After initiating biomedical intervention, kids who simply begin to even copy the therapist will make faster gains.

Self-injurious behaviors and aggression greatly impede advancement in all domains. Such conduct is frequently gut-related, so a thorough workup and effective treatment should take precedence over any other interventions. The time it takes to get this system under control is predictive of speedier success.

Factors not necessarily related to timing of improvement
Intelligence is not in question for most patients. In fact, it seems that the brightest kids are the most likely to manipulate their family and therapists, sometimes slowing down their own improvement. Often, behavioral intervention (of some type) is key to achieving compliance and self-control.

Sensory issues may continue for many years, even after the children are mostly ‘better’. In fact, this may be the lingering issue for which parents seek treatment, and a major cause of inattention and social anxiety.

Immaturity is common, leading to tantrums and issues with self-control, and proceeds slower than neurotypical children. Peer pressure from role models and family members accelerates this troublesome problem.

Discussion
It is sometimes difficult to get our heads around the chronicity of this developmental condition. All children experience good days/ bad days; it appears exaggerated with ASD, and some medical problems recur (yeast, e.g.).

When first diagnosed, if a parent could be certain that their child may only experience leftover sensory, hyperactive, or focus issues, they would probably be okay with that future. Not all patients suffer even those lingering difficulties.

Many families have witnessed accelerated development resulting from biomedical intervention. Parents, teachers, and even doctors will avow visible progress.

Conclusion
Autism is a collection of conditions that emanate from a variety of sources. As the diagnosis becomes more precise, outcomes will be based on information, such as genetics, metabolism, and immune function, and expected outcomes will become more accurate, as well.

I advise parents to watch for little goals.  ‘Recovery’, ‘reversal’, ‘optimal outcome’, ‘normal’ are journeys that begin with small steps.

Frustrating as it may be, regardless of speed, it is the sustained, forward trajectory of development that appears to be of upmost importance as parents consider, “Will my child make it?”

Processing Disorders are Autism

Sunday, February 12th, 2017

With all of the professionals who care for individuals experiencing signs and symptoms that are presently classified as ASD, it isn’t surprising that the organization of problems reflects the point of view of each discipline.

To the extent that nomenclature describes identifiable, clearly understood pathways, it can improve our understanding of function (or the lack thereof), as it relates to structure (but not necessarily vise-versa). Often, however, researchers utilize long, complicated terms that merely restate the obvious. Such designations may not provide additional insight, which is sorely needed if we are to reverse the named condition.

Selective eating disorder = picky eater

Visual processing disorder = sees things differently

Auditory processing disorder = hears things differently

Sensory processing disorder = feels things differently

Oppositional defiance disorder = responds to everything the opposite way

Attention deficit disorder = won’t focus on non-preferred activities

Hyperactivity disorder = can’t sit still

ADHD = both of the above

Sleep disorder = takes longer to fall asleep, wakes up frequently, or both

Social anxiety disorder = uncomfortable around others

Obsessive compulsive disorder = repetitive behaviors and restricted interests

Cognitive processing disorder =?Executive functioning disorder = ?Motor planning disorder = ?expressive language deficiency = ?receptive language disruption = ?doesn’t (appear to) learn/listen/remember.

Discussion
Each of these labels accurately reflects some condition frequently experienced by individuals with ASD. Professionals may utilize such information to address a patient’s issues, but it can be quite confusing when complex jargon is invoked to explain an intervention to the family.

“Why is my child exhibiting this aberrant behavior?” Until much more research identifies actual, measurable, specific physiological states, my response is, “Signals sometimes go to the right place and can perform the appropriate function, the wrong place and lead to an incorrect response, or just bounce around and diminish.”

At least, an understanding about, and explanation of, similar terms utilized by other disciplines would ease parents’ concerns that, “Somebody missed something,” about their child.

Conclusion
I recently spoke with a mom who was told about a feedback loop issue in her child with motor planning deficiencies and sensory processing difficulties. Each therapist provided a valid diagnostic label. I suggested that she focus on the skills required in order for her 4 year-old to play with other children.

Rather than invoking esoteric, complicated language as to theoretical cause, the focus should be on assisting patients’ ability to achieve required skills, such as spontaneous speech, self-control, eye contact, motor proficiency and socialization.

Smooth, efficient processing between our body and brain is the goal. In human development, when systems fail to mesh in the correct fashion, what we observe is called autism.

Optimal Outcome for Autism

Sunday, February 5th, 2017
1/30/17 Email to TheAutismDoctor.com 
Hello, 
I am a student doing a research paper on the over-diagnosis of autism. Do you think the over diagnosis of autism is rising? …Thank you and your response is greatly appreciated!

Dr. Udell
There is a controversy about whether or not autism is being ‘over diagnosed’, or it is simply being recognized more accurately. If earlier recognition of the problem results in fewer children with school problems, it might not matter what the condition is called.

With all of the confusion about autism diagnosis, it probably isn’t that surprising that a youngster in today’s world, writing a school report on autism, chose ‘over-diagnosis’ as her main focus.

Over-diagnosis?
Last year, a paper entitled, Diagnosis lost: Differences between children who had and who currently have an autism spectrum disorder diagnosis was popularly presented as, Government Study Suggests Autism Overdiagnosed.

Research appearing more recently, Evidence of a reduction over time in the behavioral severity of autistic disorder diagnoses could have engendered a similar conclusion.

Changing the paradigm
Appearing in Policy Insights from the Behavioral and Brain Sciences was an important document that will further diagnosis and treatmentOptimizing Outcome in Autism Spectrum Disorders.
ASD can result in a wide range of outcomes,
from need for lifelong care to successful adult functioning.

Intensive behavioral intervention can change the course of development and outcome, especially if intervention begins in early childhood.

To receive effective early intervention, the individual
must be detected, and then diagnosed early.

Screeners for autism are effective; some concerned stakeholder organizations endorse universal autism screening at 18 to 24 months.

Children from economically disadvantaged or ethnic minority families are detected and diagnosed up to 2 years later, delaying their access to intervention and limiting their outcome.

To detect ASD in early childhood and reduce treatment disparities, physician surveillance and elicitation of parental concerns should be augmented by universal screening.

The author concluded:

“The cost of effective early intervention is significant; however, the impact of failing to provide this intervention in long-term costs and unrealized human potential is much greater.”

This week, ScienceDaily reportedResearchers outline new policies for earlier detection of autism in children. ABC News reported, “Autism diagnosis spike linked to change in understanding of spectrum, study finds.”

Much better!

Discussion
This information should improve our understanding of the true spectrum of signs and symptoms that are characterized as ASD, and provide methods to address the situation.

It outlines clinicians’ early responsibility to assist the family in checking for red flags; over-diagnosing, God forbid, a newly perceived developmental anomaly. Nomenclature notwithstanding, there are delays that can be ameliorated, especially with earlier recognition.

Conclusion
Importantly, these guidelines expose what children need, if not precisely how they arrived with the developmental challenges. From a biomedical standpoint, it highlights a pediatric specialists’ need to understand an appropriate workup, rather than an old-fashioned hand-off to another specialist.

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