Archive for June, 2017

A Tale of Two Studies – About Autism

Sunday, June 25th, 2017

June 2017
Two quite different papers were published recently, which together directly address important aspects regarding our understanding about diagnosis, prevention and treatment of autism.

The first article is entitled, “Functional neuroimaging of high-risk 6-month-old infants predicts a diagnosis of autism at 24 months of age.” An earlier diagnosis – much earlier – might be on the horizon if this interesting MRI study holds true.

The algorithms are very dense. In fact, I had to ask my neuro-radio-pathologist friend to help me interpret the data, and he said the math gave him a headache! For example, “… a total of 974 functional connections in the 6-month- old brain that showed a relationship with behavior at 24 months and were different between groups. Together, these functional connections constituted <4% of the potential 26,335 total functional connections studied…”

It’s not anatomy, i.e. structure that was evaluated, but the workings of neural pathways, implying that autism (some forms of it, anyway) is present in the brain at a very early age. Autistic behaviors that could be predicted and, possibly successfully prevented or reduced, included social interaction, expressive language, and repetition, among a number of other important parameters.

This evaluation represents a new generation of ‘machine-based learning’, which itself begs further scrutiny. There was a small sample size, and questions remain about the reliably of testing an infant’s thoughts, while inside a moving, noisy environment. The bottom line is, there was high sensitivity and specificity for predicting signs and symptoms at 2 years.

A complementary investigation, published elsewhere, happened to appear this month. It is entitled, “Randomised trial of a parent-mediated intervention for infants at high risk for autism: longitudinal outcomes to age 3 years.” As in the other paper, younger siblings were chosen as subjects, due to their 20 times increased risk of developmental challenges. In similarly aged infants and toddlers, there were improved overall outcomes in the treatment group.

The authors wrote,”… that a very early intervention for at-risk infants has produced a sustained alteration of subsequent child developmental trajectory; reducing prodromal autism symptoms into the second and third years of life to a total of 24 months following end of the intervention.
(Possibly useful data in response to beneficiaries’ requests for insurance coverage?)

Discussion
It is reassuring to observe that, “Earlier diagnosis can lead to appropriate preemptive treatment with improved outcomes,” has become a model of research. Authors of the MRI piece wrote, “Given the known plasticity of the brain and behavior during the first year of life, together with the absence of the defining features of the disorder, intervention during this presymptomatic phase, before consolidation of the full syndrome of ASD, is likely to show considerably stronger benefits compared with later treatments.”

Conclusion
Such analyses ought to shape new treatment paradigms for this exploding epidemic. As similar attitudes become more commonplace, it ought to behoove conventional medicine to look at this evidence-based approach, and start doing more appropriate assessments for patients diagnosed with ASD.

Of course, “further study is required.” In the meantime, information is accumulating that, even a pre-emptive diagnosis seems prudent.

Fathers and Autism

Sunday, June 18th, 2017

The diagnosis of autism seems more difficult for the Dads. We are simply not wired to easily accept deviations from expected norms. For the entire gestation, through the first 15+ months, it’s mostly Mother who is feeding, going to medical visits, and communicating with the new child. So, when development lags and socialization ceases to flow, there is often an extra bit of frustration and disappointment.

This is an ode that I wrote 5 years ago, updated for today’s families who affected by autism:

Warrior Dads. Concerned Dads. Curious, watchful, insightful. Patience.
Sometimes, not so patient.
 
Hard working Dads. Smart… trying anyway. Good husbands… trying anyway.
Sometimes, it works.
 
Miniature cars. Trains. Crayons. Getting them in just the right order.
Spinning. Wheels. Fans. Is that a ‘stim’?
 
Sleep – please. Poop – ?too little ?too much
Toilet training. Communicate!
 
Catch. Football. Soccer.
Maybe, have to wait a little while.
 
Education. Vacation. Camp.
IEPs.
 
Movies. Computers. iPads. iPad Apps.
Youtube. Too much repetition?
 
Wii. xBox. Video games.
On to another (non-preferred) activity. 
 
Decisions. Schools. Therapists. Drugs.
Opinions. Treatment options. Vaccinations. 
 
Doctors. Specialists. Alternative doctors. Naturopaths.
Homeopaths. Chiropractors. Nutritionists. B12 shots.
 
Appointments. Medications. Therapies. Supplements.
Money. Money. Money. More money.
 
Rare Holidays. Vacations. Exercise. Hobbies.
Planning for Restaurants. Shopping. Errands. 
 
Looking for Smiles. Playing with Toys. Chase.
Bouncing. Lots of bouncing.
 
Swimming. Horseback riding. Pet turtle.
Dr. Udell’s fish tank.
 
Finding activities. Yoga for kids. Summer camp scholarships.
Sensory friendly films. Thanks, Autism Society, and other local organizations.
 
Missing Cheeseburgers. Pizza. Mac & cheese. P&J.
Gluten free/ Casein free – Are these French Fries OK?
 
Sisters, brothers, grandparents, in-laws, cousins.
Peers. Precious few friends. 
 
Homework. Practice. Play. 
Worrying. Teaching. Learning.

 It’s all good. You’re a great Dad.
Happy Fathers Day !

© theautismdoctor.com

The Challenge of Challenging Behaviors

Sunday, June 11th, 2017

The Child Development Center has been experiencing a rash (dare I say, “Epidemic”?) of children who present with poor socialization, decreased attention requiring prompting and redirection, sensory and/or oppositional issues, extreme rudeness, dark thoughts and threats, obsessive activities, immaturity, and aggressiveness (physical, verbal or both). The children are not ‘autistic’. And, it’s not ‘just ADHD’.

One parent of such a child recently wrote that he was saddened by these disturbing developmental conditions in his otherwise amazing kid. When children do not ‘come out’ the way that we had anticipated, it brings heartbreak and disappointment.

Extremely disruptive displays are not merely frustrating.
They can be embarrassing and even cause depression.
In today’s world, that has become the journey of (too) many parents.

What Doesn’t Work
Corporal punishment was the traditional mainstay for ‘making children behave’. Thus, grandparents often complain that today’s parents are not firm enough. First, the price that is paid by utilization of either verbal or physical punishment is self-esteem – by both parties. Abusive actions, offhandedly employed in the last century, may prompt a Child Protective Services visit in this one. Second, affected youth appear to experience increased pain resistance. Eventually, that form of discipline goes unnoticed. Third, such a reaction is the exact opposite what we are trying to instill.

In the past months, we have examined a number of children whose medical pharmacopeia appeared proportional to their age. There was a 7 year-old taking three medications, and one teen was already getting Abilify, Risperidone, Geodon, Valproic acid, and Lamectal, among other pharmaceuticals. And, her psychiatrist was suggesting more. When does it stop?

I am certain that parents and doctors arrive at such multiple combinations of drugs honestly. Each symptom is met with another medicine. The patient is then drowning in chemical soup. What is the plan?

What Can Work
A medical workup is required. The prescribing physician is obliged to follow levels of anticonvulsants (for symptom adjustment), liver and kidney function (for drug elimination), blood count, and nutritional status.

In given patients, practitioners should consider fungal overgrowth, PANDAS, or Lyme disease. Screening for toxic substances has been a recent addition to our armamentarium. So new, perhaps, that such data is not necessarily that helpful, yet. Likewise, genetic technology has become available that better determines how patients metabolize various pharmaceutical preparations, but usefulness in clinical practice remains limited. To the extent that an astute clinician determines an underlying problem(s), great strides can be made toward amelioration of some disturbances.

Behavioral interventions are the proven treatment. It takes a professional therapist to get challenging children to display self-control. Common sense dictates that such juveniles require absolute consistency. One pre-adolescent demonstrated an uncanny ability to mock my consultation. Perhaps, the parents were thinking, “Now, you see how rude he is!” when they laughed it off. Regardless, their response validated the child’s disrespect.

One parent has developed her own form of pre-vigilance. Mom is able to ‘sense’ when her kids aren’t able to concentrate, and provides relief at the earliest sign of distractibility.

Rather than additional pharmaceutical preparations, doctors should consider which ones to decrease or discontinue. The list often contains drugs that were instituted for behaviors that are no longer at issue. Additionally, it can be helpful to consider less toxic medications or even supplements when the status quo is not doing the job.

Conclusions
My diagnosis is that such challenging children have escaped ‘traditional’ autism. It’s not obsessive-compulsive disorder, Tourette’s, schizophrenia, bipolar disorder, sensory/visual/auditory processing disorder, oppositional defiance disorder, etc.
It’s processing disturbances caused by our toxic environment acting on susceptible individuals.

Finding relief may be exasperating, with periods of improvement and regression. This is when patience and the knowledge that the child has the capacity to achieve necessary skills to ‘make it’ need to take precedence. Some parents choose home-schooling, special schooling, and less-than-hoped-for academic situations. Some must resort to medications.

This alteration in childhood development is not FUN. For many, it’s parenthood in the 21st Century. Consider that the best course is to ‘first, cause no harm’.

Sleeping Sickness Medicine for Autism?

Tuesday, June 6th, 2017

‘Game-changer for autism’:
100-year-old drug reverses symptoms, study finds

Recent headlines, such as those, have stimulated the submission of a fair number of emails that went something like this…

Dear Dr. Udell,
I saw this study on the internet.
I would like to try this medicine for my child. What do you think?

Dear Parents,
After further consideration, here are my observations about this serious pharmaceutical intervention:

1. What is suramin?
It is a chemical that was invented to cure parasitic diseases. The dosage used for autism has been significantly reduced.

2. What was the actual paper?
This treatment is based on a unique approach to autism, and it represents a preliminary test of whether this drug might be safe and effective for common signs and symptoms of this emerging epidemic.

There were 5 patients in each group of 4-17 year-old boys, who were either given a single dose of the medication, or placebo. Outcomes were measured in the first week, and 6 weeks later. There were generalized improvements in many areas. As blood levels decreased over time, so did some advances. Surprisingly, progress was seen in speech apraxia, even in 2 older children.

The drug was well-tolerated, except for “a short-lived, self-limiting rash.”

3. How does the drug work?
The authors explained, “One approach to addressing the challenge of many etiologies of ASD is to define a common pathophysiology that can contribute to the core diagnostic symptoms, regardless of the initiating genetic and environmental triggers. We hypothesized that there is a conserved cellular response to metabolic perturbation or danger that is shared by all children with ASD… in mice produced a treatable metabolic syndrome…” The administration of a medicine that adjusts for an alteration in RNA and DNA manufacture, and energy production, “…corrected both the behavioral and metabolic features of these genetic and environmental mouse models of ASD.”

4.  How is it administered?
INTRAVENOUS PUSH. From the results of this research, it would appear that doses may be required every ? 1-2 months for ?? months? This is not for the faint of heart.

5. How much would it cost?
The drug, alone, appears to cost less than $50, depending on the source. If it is found to be successful, let’s see how the powers-that-be jack up the price. Plus, there would be additional charges of IV administration and followup testing.

6. What labs must be followed?
That remains to be discovered with increasing experience and research.

7. What are the long term effects?
Ditto #6.

Conclusion
This medicine may simply share many of the same properties as the myriad of other gut-altering treatments. Positive results require frequent administration, and ‘tolerance’ to therapy sometimes makes them less effective.

However, the use of suramin is based on a different paradigm (how cells respond to stress) that takes into account the diversity of possible causes of autism, both environmental and genetic. That such a new direction in research is being explored is exciting and hopeful.

For now, families need to continue to be patient. Especially in children, interventions that are so invasive and potentially harmful require more study and followup, in order for parents to make a truly informed decision.

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Brian D. Udell MD
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Davie
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