Archive for October, 2017

Fundraising for Autism Research

Monday, October 23rd, 2017

(Too) many years ago, our Regional Intensive Care Unit had the honor of hosting Audrey Hepburn. At that time, we were knee-deep in cocaine exposed babies, and the entourage stopped at the incubator of a 1 pound infant who was barely visible among the wires and tubes.

I asked the famous actress, 1992 recipient of The Presidential Medal of Freedom, and tireless worker for UNICEF, if she minded that the costs of this single child’s care were expected to exceed $1 million. “Wouldn’t you be able to feed an entire village somewhere?” Her surprising answer was, “There’s enough money for both, if we care to spend it that way.”

Fast forward to a recent NYC fundraiser for Columbia Presbyterian’s Transplant Initiative. I complained to my beautiful and patient wife, Jackie, that autism doesn’t receive the same kind of attention as other medical condtions. Frankly, I was jealous. There is enough money for both, if we choose to spend it that way.

There are presently ~117,000 people requiring an organ transplant of some type. There are over 5 million people with autism. In the past several years, I have attended, and been struck by, similar begrudging feelings at benefits for the Michael J Fox Foundation for Parkinson’s Disease. Sure, it’s important to give people a ‘second chance’ at life. But, have the children who are most affected with ASD, and their families, had any real first opportunity at normalcy?

Look, I’m not trying to compare apples to oranges, but it seems that ASD should be appropriately considered as THE childhood epidemic of OUR time. A great deal more is needed by way of funding for useful investigations. I am honored to serve as a Board Member in our local Autism Society of America – Broward County, but research and medical issues are for other institutions.

Increased collaboration among national organizations, including Autism Speaks, Generation Rescue, Talk About Curing Autism Now, Autism Research Institute, The National Autism Association, and local CARD groups, can only strengthen awareness and support.

Autism is stuck in a century-old paradigm of psychological causation. Lately, parents are offered a genetic etiology that leaves them with little hope. Disparate theories and alternate interventions require evidence-based research. That includes adequate vaccine studies – among other ubiquitous toxins – to identify those infants at possible increased risk for untoward consequences.

Acknowledgement of the successes that doctors, such as myself, are experiencing every day, needs to be appropriately studied and documented. It seems that more funding might be directed toward our work, were it not for all of the controversies surrounding an autism label. Unity among the various interested parties to support ‘N of One‘ treatments may help us attain that goal. That way, more toddlers would have access to earlier medical interventions, as well as conventional therapy.

Columbia’s Transplant organization’s motto is “We don’t just practice medicine. We change it.” Practitioners who are at the forefront of effective autism diagnosis and treatment feel that way, as well.

When Mom and Dad Disagree About Autism Intervention

Sunday, October 15th, 2017

Undoubtedly, the most stressful challenge that any family might face is illness in their child. Even in cases where treatment is established, e.g. acute leukemia, there are bound to be differences of opinion about which doctor, or hospital will do the best job.

When it comes to ASD however, even the diagnosis can remain in doubt. One parent, or a sibling, may have experienced “the same” symptoms, such as late speech or inattentiveness. So, the ‘watchful waiting’ advice from the pediatrician appears most prudent. A neurologist who observed your toddler for 70 seconds may have declared a normal – or dire – outcome. Who to believe? Then, there is the conventional medical community that continues to debate the condition and the ability of earlier recognition to alter the course.

Differences about the diagnosis
 Take an online questionnaire, such as the Autism Treatment Evaluation Checklist or Modified Autism Checklist for Toddlers. Although ‘experts’ may deem such surveying as ineffective, it is certainly a start. And, parents shouldn’t bother quibbling over whether Junior should get a “1” or “2” for any single answer. Observing suspicious tendencies may help convince a spouse, or doctor, that there could be real reason for concern.

 Listen to the advice of grandma or grandpa. They have raised other children, even if it was a different century. Try not to listen to advisors who have no responsibility for their opinions.

 If a therapist is already involved, ask what signs and symptoms they view as worrisome. It’s not their labels that you seek, but another professional opinion regarding suspect behavior.

 Don’t be afraid to ask the child’s teacher, or the school personnel, what they think might be different about your child. Academic staff are frequently the first to postulate a problem.

 Take videos of unusual behaviors. One parent may simply not have gotten to spend enough time to have observed a ‘stim’, or recognize activity as repetitive.

 Have the child evaluated by a trained professional. Then, insist on a precise diagnosis. Children with sensory processing, executive functioning disorder, and speech apraxia have autism.

Discrepancies about the next steps
So much inertia must be overcome to establish that first step, simply embracing traditional treatments can offer parents glimpses of improved development. OT (occupational therapy), PT (physical therapy), S&L (speech and language therapy), and ABA (behavioral therapies), must be given the time to reveal results.

At the very least, however, ask your pediatrician to make sure to perform some basic laboratory testing. Even if there is disagreement, how could it hurt to obtain a complete blood count, evaluation of nutritional status (calcium, magnesium, vitamin D, iron), and thyroid screening?

Opposition about biomedical interventions
Although the pull of the Internet is great, children are best served by contacting a physician who is involved in The Medical Academy of Pediatric Special Needs. Unfortunately, there are too few to adequately staff the burgeoning number of affected children, but, we practice state-of-the-art, evidence-based medical intervention.

By continuing our education within such a medical fellowship, and achieving a thorough knowledge of the science that appears in peer-reviewed journals, doctors have developed protocols that have been proven safe and effective. Although the costs are rarely adequately covered by medical insurance, the investment will last a lifetime. Literally.

Conclusion
Denial and delay are not in your child’s best interests. Doctors who are satisfied with the status quo will achieve that end. Modern thinking is that earlier intervention results in improved outcomes.

At The Child Development Center, our experienced and knowledgeable Practice Manager, Karen, has observed that families who seem to have the most success, “May not be on the same page, but are at least in the same book!”

The Real Cause of Autism

Sunday, October 8th, 2017

Recently, these 3 headlines appeared on my iRadar Screens:

Genetics a Cause of Autism in Most Cases: Study
 Korean-American Professor Couple Identify Major Cause of Autism
 Could multivitamin use in pregnancy protect children from autism?

Yet, the research was entitled:

The Heritability of Autism Spectrum Disorder
Mum’s bacteria linked to baby’s behavior
Antenatal nutritional supplementation and autism spectrum disorders in the Stockholm youth cohort: population based cohort study

And, the papers covered the following data:

The examiners mathematically re-analyzed decades-old Swedish registry information that strengthened the association with genetic factors. About the findings the lead author has admitted, “our results do not give any information about specific genes or other direct causes. It only informs us that genes are important…. our study cannot shed any light” on the reason for higher rates.

This was published in Nature, entitled, Maternal gut bacteria promote neurodevelopmental abnormalities in mouse offspring. “The couple found that certain bacteria in the mother’s digestive tract can lead to having an autistic child. Furthermore, they found the exact brain location linked to autistic behaviors, which can be used to find a cure for autism.” Mice are not men.

Using a similar Swedish cohort as the first study, authors reviewed supplementation with multivitamins, iron and folate. They concluded that, “Maternal multivitamin supplementation during pregnancy may be inversely associated with ASD with intellectual disability in offspring.”

Discussion
All of the information first appeared in reputable journals. The stories took a turn through leading health and science magazines, and finally popular media announced theories as if they were dogma. Often, autism research is subject to the ‘telephone game’, resulting in overstated and oversimplified claims masquerading as explanations for complicated medical concepts.

Nevertheless, these investigations represent clues, directions to be pursued, possible new treatments and even prevention. It’s so confusing because they document only baby steps in this scientific puzzle.

Conclusion 
Rather than view these studies as disparate, an alternative perspective could be something like:
If autism is the result of a susceptible individual (genetic study) affected by an environmental stress (mouse study), then utilizing a metabolic intervention (third study) might make sense.

Finally, An Anti-Anti Reflux Study

Sunday, October 1st, 2017

Perhaps my theory is full of water, but this seasoned pediatrician’s belief is that the price that modern society has paid for the successful ‘back to sleep‘ campaign has been an increased incidence of gastro-esophageal reflux (GERD). The practice was introduced to Western medicine at the end of the last century, to reduce Sudden Infant Death Syndrome (SIDS).

When newborns are kept solely on their backs, acid, mucus and food may be more likely to slosh all the way up to the back of the throat, eventually leading to the tubes that are supposed to drain to the middle ear. That has led to an increasing number of infections (otitis media), and an explosion of antibiotic use in very young children.

So, is it the reflux, the treatment of the reflux, the consequences of the reflux, or the treatment of those consequences that increases an infant’s risk of developing signs and symptoms? Aggressive behaviors, hyperactivity, lack of focus, sensory issues, and various gut disorders are commonly ascribed to ASD. Such are the complications woven into the stories of many parents interviewed at The Child Development Center.

The Literature
The practice of placing children on their back was based on observations in other countries, and theories about characteristic electro-encephalographic patterns characterizing those with increased risk of SIDS. Studies in the Netherlands confirmed the observation, and led to the AAP recommendations. No doubt, this strategy has worked for SIDS. However, could the emphasis on alteration of those sleep patterns – related to breathing – have a non-intended effect on other CNS development, as well?

Subsequent research has confirmed the increase in reflux related to infant positioning. The knee-jerk reaction by modern pediatricians has been the issuance of an Rx for antacids, in some form, from Tums to Nexium. Vitamin and mineral absorption becomes impaired. I have previously documented the pitfalls of this intervention.

This week, JAMA reported that, “… infants prescribed antacids to manage acid reflux, or spitting up, under age 1 had more bone fractures later in childhood.” Calcium absorption is believed to be the culprit. “There was a dose-response relationship between fracture hazard and duration of treatment with PPIs. Those taking them for a month or less were at a 19% greater hazard of bone breakage than infants who did not take the suppressors. Those taking the drugs for 60 days to 150 days were at 23% greater hazard and those taking them longer than 150 days were at 42% increased hazard.”

Discussion
The medical establishment altered the environment in the 1990s when we repositioned babies. Consequences have included plagiocephaly (flat head), torticollis (tight neck), and feeding difficulties. Then, we re-set the field again with antacid preparations. Present literature warning about these pharmaceuticals is probably just the tip of the iceberg.

Environmental change + Susceptible Individual = Alteration from Expected Norm

As a practicing neonatologist, nearly all of our ‘premies’ suffered up-chucking of some sort. I never ordered Prevacid, Zantac, Pantaprozole, etc. in the last century – it wasn’t available. Assiduous positioning and a small amount of Bethanecol (a drug to increase gastric tone) worked great. Ear infections in the first years of life were rare, and doctors seldom resorted to antibiotics. And, we didn’t see much autism in the follow-up clinics.

Conclusions
The Safe to Sleep® campaign offers lots of useful advice. SIDS has decreased by 50%. Some common sense is needed, however. For example, it probably is not necessary to stress the ‘supine position only’. Babies will usually drift to their sides, anyway, especially as they get older. And, if a responsible person is close, it’s pretty safe.

When reflux is diagnosed, simple positioning and an appropriate evaluation should precede any intervention that involves medication. If recurrent infections appear, the placement of ears tubes can mitigate the requirement for further rounds of drugs.

Is it really necessary to keep all infants on their back, all of the time? The ramifications of this policy need to be re-examined, as they may apply to the epidemic number of children with autism.

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Brian D. Udell MD
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