National Autism Association Fall 2011 Conference

By reporting the highlights of the various conferences that I attend, I have found that 1) it helps me to recall and imprint the information and 2) it helps families who weren’t at the conference to gain knowledge which might be of value for their child. Although this is in no way equal to having attended, this summary will also guide readers about where to look on the Internet to read more about these topics, and/or to attend future seminars.

Dr. Dan Rossignol was a major presenter this year. He spoke about Folate Receptor Autoimmunity in Autism Spectrum Disorders. The resulting relative folate deficiency could be a significant contributing factor to many cases of autism because of reduced brain metabolism and energy production. In his inimitable style, Dr. Rossignol presented about a thousand scientific papers discussing his position, and it certainly seemed to make sense from where I sat. Suffice it to say that a) cow’s milk might contribute to the problem, b) giving folic acid to pregnant moms may not be the correct form of the vitamin, c) there are both blocking and binding antibodies and so autoimmunity plays a large part and d) folinic acid (the active form of folate) may ameliorate the situation.

Dr. Rossignol’s other lecture was Mitochondrial Dysfunction in Seizures and ASD. First, I love seeing the cartoon of the electron transport chain that produces cellular energy (can’t get enough of that one) and Dr. R has perfected this in his presentation. The point of his lecture is that, although ASD patients don’t necessarily have full-blown mitochondrial disease, there appears to be a great deal of dysfunction in the cell’s ability to make and store energy and so there are downstream symptoms that appear very much like autism. Again, lots of supporting evidence was presented as well as treatments – many of which are the same energy enhancing therapies that we already utilize in the biomedical protocols. Speaking ever faster, then Dr. R gave an hour lecture – in 15 minutes – about the occurrence of seizure-like activity (if not actual seizures) which may contribute to many autistic symptoms.

Also, along with Drs. Usman and Berger, Dr. Rossignol directed a very thorough ‘question and answer’ session. The topic of hyperbaric oxygen was covered in some detail, especially the research experience that showed positive responses to this controversial therapy. I was a bit disappointed that Dr. R did NOT cover the CARD HBOT study which was not able to conclude the same positive results as his research, which was funded by the makers of the chamber. However, for the parents who attended this session, they got to ask really specific questions about their children and the physicians were quite forthcoming with their advice.

Scott Smith, a physician’s assistant and one-time colleague of Drs. Rossignol and Bradstreet, presented a very informative lecture about P.A.N.D.A.S., which is an autoimmune syndrome whose symptoms closely overlap those of autism. His point was that testing, diagnosis and treatment are similarly related in the two entities, and that we can learn a lot about ASD from studying patients who suffer from the debilitating symptoms of P.A.N.D.A.S., including severe OCDs, tics, behavioral disturbances and regressions in cognition and language.

Dr. William Shaw, the Director of Great Plains Laboratory gave a very enlightening presentation about cholesterol deficiencies which may occur in ASD patients, resulting in decreased brain structure and function. He discussed  the importance of the Sonic Hedgehog protein (yep, it’s named after a game character), a major signaling protein which could be altered in the presence of low cholesterol and therefore lead to symptoms, including autism. Cholesterol is also important in the binding of serotonin and oxytocin, which have also been implicated in ASD symptomatology. Oxytocin was discussed a lot during the conference – not much to report other than anecdotal improvements.

Dr. Anju Usman’s lecture was Autism and the Autonomic Nervous System. There was more evidence about the benefits of oxytocin, especially when combined with secretin (which was a popular ASD therapy several years ago). The importance of cortisol and a normal biorhythm was presented, especially when disturbances occur and the autonomic nervous system (sympathetic and parasympathetic) becomes unbalanced, resulting in many symptoms which autistic individuals experience. Just hearing Dr. Usman calms the listener – I’m sure that her families appreciate her wonderful demeanor.

Dr. Elizabeth Mumper of the Rimland Center gave a wonderful talk about starting therapy for the autistic child. I mention this because any parent (or professional) who is new to the ASD puzzle will gain a great deal of knowledge by attending one of her lectures.

Dr. Andrew Wakefield gave a presentation about his upcoming book, Waging War on the Autistic Child. Look, I love hearing Andy speak (that British accent is so compelling) and he got a really raw deal from the medical community. But, I’m not sure if perhaps he has jumped the shark?? You know, gone overboard with a presentation about how one family got screwed by the government, school system and complicit, ignorant, unyielding doctors who didn’t agree with how one set of parents were raising their children. What else is new? I would like to see Dr. Wakefield focus more on what we CAN DO about it – the science and the research that will force change through knowledge.

The most illuminating presentation, I found, was by Raun Kaufman, a recovered autism patient. His dad, Barry Neil Kaufman, wrote the book, Son-Rise, which documented the journey. Raun was dynamic, entertaining and informative. His organization, The Autism Treatment Center of America, provides expertise and education so that parents can actually help their kids out of their autistic world by entering it and enhancing interactions which can then be generalized to other areas in their lives.

But the best thing about this weekend’s conference? It was the sound of laughter coming from parents and squealing of kids in the swimming pool. I couldn’t stay to hear Dr. Julie Buckley’s lecture about Caring for the Caregiver, but I bet relaxing and having fun must be part of her prescription.

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