Posts Tagged ‘Attention deficit’

MAPS Fall ’14 Conference

Saturday, September 13th, 2014

Twice a year, doctors who are interested in understanding and treating children with complicated developmental issues, convene under the direction of the Medical Academy of Pediatric Special Needs. This is our opportunity to stay up-to-date about the latest protocols, and to speak with specialists from all over the world.

In addition to introducing the biomedical approach to professionals and providing a venue for the spouse and kids, the program includes ‘advanced’ tracks. The highlights of those lectures will be reviewed.

Day 1
Dr. Anju Usman – Down Syndrome
“What does that have to do with autism?” Learning about one neurologic childhood condition helps elucidate normal vs. abnormal structure and function. Besides, there are more than a few patients who suffer from both.

The ever-changing basic science of the brain was reviewed. A medical workup is similar; requiring genetic, metabolic, immune, and gastrointestinal evaluation. Conversely, having discovered treatment for the mitochondrial issues in ASD has successfully addressed various problems for Trisomy 21 patients, as well.

Dr. Giuseppina Feingold – Cerebral Palsy and Seizures
Again, understanding seizure activity in a condition where it is not uncommon, helps our understanding about convulsions in ASD. The lecturer, a pediatrician who practices alternative medicine in a very conventional setting, described her experience with her own child, who has CP.
A thorough review on the use of HBOT for CP was presented.

Dr. Mukherjee (New Dehli) and Dr. Marois (Quebec) followed with their research and positive experience managing CP with HBOT. Somehow, their findings have been misunderstood and misrepresented by the conventional medical community, for variety of reasons.

Dr. Kenneth Stoller reviewed his clinical knowledge and experience with Fetal Alcohol Syndrome. He has successfully treated patients with HBOT and Oxytocin, and has published that research.

Case presentations and discussions – sharing our medical experiences – finished out the day. The 2000 pound gorilla in the room? (hint – it has something to do with autism). Data is lacking.

Day 2
Very exciting! This day’s lecturers are rockstars, as far as researching, teaching, publishing and treating the group of conditions that present as a post-inflammatory encephalopathy. It is rare to be among such experts, so freely discussing their findings and opinions.

The moderator, Dr. Nancy O’Hara described her extensive experience treating patients with these disorders, including her own son. Details are provided about an accurate description, differential diagnosis (“What else could it be?”), laboratory ‘workup’, treatment options (including an additional lecture covering nutritional support) and outcome.

Dr. Tanya Murphy presented a fascinating talk about the overlap between antimicrobials and psychotropic medications. Specifically, certain antibiotics can also have neuropsychiatric effects. Conversely, psychotropic drugs have effects on the inflammatory system. This finding helps explain why the disparate group of medications that we use may have similar effects.

The inventor of the term, Dr. Sue Swedo, a Director at the NIMH, presented the latest about PANDAS. She described the areas in the brain where tics and OCD behaviors lie, and how this manifests as a condition for doctors to investigate, with treatment guidelines.

Professor Madeleine Cunningham, a researcher for over 35 years, gave an elegant presentation that documented the presence of autoantibodies in certain patients’ blood and the CSF, offering evidence that those chemicals signal (or are blocked from) neuronal cells. This work helps our understanding of many of the movement disorders, from Tourette’s to PANDAS.

Case presentations and videos completed the afternoon. The take home message was that doctors should stop asking the question, “Do you believe in PANDAS?”

Day 3
Inflammation

Dr. Rodney Dietert conveyed his understanding regarding the complexity of the functional immune system, and the relationship to non-communicable chronic disease. “The tie that binds,” according to the Chief of Immunology at Cornell.
He presented with the passion and knowledge that only a man who has spent his lifetime in this research could bring.

Harvard celiac researcher, Dr. Alessio Fasano, presented Intestinal Permeability, Antigen Trafficking and Inflammation. The subtitle, “The gut is not like Las Vegas, what happens in the gut does not stay in the gut,” tells the whole story.

Canadian naturopathic physician, Dr. Zayd Ratansi spoke about HBOT and Inflammation. There were lots of associations with medical conditions such as wounds, pain, trauma, cystitis and CP. The only slide about ASD and HBOT slide was Dr. Rossignol’s controversial multi-center report.

Dr. Russell Blaylock, a neurosurgeon, researcher and author, spoke about Immunocytotoxicity in CNS Disorders, elucidating how inflammation is handled in the brain.
He explained why/how systemic disturbances activate the CNS immune system. In turn, ASD patients with inflammation, perhaps elsewhere, have behavioral signs and symptoms. Comments were offered about the risks of the present vaccine schedule on the developing brain.

Although I can’t report that there was a great deal of specific day-to-day information, there was a lot of food for thought, networking, and the knowledge that there an increasing number of serious professionals working on your kids’ difficulties.

ADHD – What else could it be?

Sunday, September 7th, 2014

In medical parlance, the title = “The Differential Diagnosis of Attention Deficit/Hyperactivity Disorder”. However, a major stumbling block to understanding, treating and preventing this childhood epidemic is that it is considered a single organic entity, mostly of familial origin. Treatment usually involves strong stimulant medications, with serious side effects, in order to semi-successfully control a perplexing mix of imprecise signs and symptoms.

It’s not ‘just’ ADHD:
When I first encountered hyperactivity in the previous century, it was called ‘minimal brain disfunction’. After adjusting the name to reflect the ‘hyperactivity‘, the term ‘attention deficit‘ was added to streamline the diagnosis. Common difficulties include distractibility, poor focus, constant motion, immaturity, a ‘short fuse’ and frequent disruptive behaviors.

Combining two conditions that are poorly understood makes the problem more, not less, complicated. Other than naming it differently, I’m not quite sure that we have learned much about ADHD in the past 40 years, except for the recognition that it is increasing.

It’s not just ADHD if the child also has:
Some other chronic, concurrent physiological infirmity. Allergies, poor sleep, bowel or bladder problems are often not separate, isolated maladies. Importantly, as the associated medical conditions are successfully addressed, many of the base signs and symptoms may be ameliorated, as well.

Notably, behaviors such as aggression, anxiety and opposition may be coping mechanisms, not core deficiencies. That would explain why prescription medications are frequently ineffective, only work for short periods, or can even exacerbate symptoms.

As in all medical conditions, the diagnosis requires a ‘workup':
This week, our practice evaluated a patient who was exhibiting aggressive and oppositional behaviors. At the start of the school year, with so many children who have similar issues, the diagnosis would probably have been ADHD, and the patient sent home with an Rx for Ritalin. Except, on laboratory workup and by physical examination, he has thyroid disease!

Conditions as diverse as ASD, dyslexia, prenatal substance abuse, and even chromosomal changes may be present. Such circumstances are frequently missed due to the lack of elucidating a differential diagnosis –  what else could this child’s problem be?

Diet is important:
The studies about the effects of diet on ADHD are often difficult to interpret. The popular Feingold Diet focuses on artificial ingredients and salicylates, and has helped hundreds of thousands. WebMD provides a useful framework: overall nutritional, elimination and supplementation. Such a classification highlights the need to perform a thorough medical evaluation to eliminate much of the guesswork. If you can see it, you have a chance to beat it.

All the confusing nutrition babble aside, vigilant parents may discover offending agents and helpful substitutes. The problem is getting your kids to listen.

There isn’t just one treatment:
Stimulant medications. Three major variations. Caffeine citrate and nicotine patches can substitute.
Anti-anxiety drugs. Three on-label listings (Intuniv, Risperdal, Abilify) and numerous adult versions.
Homeopathic, naturopathic, allopathic variations.
Neurofeedback, NAET, neuro-sensoryelectrical stimulation, detoxification, etc.

Such a multitude of treatment options leaves professionals throwing darts at a moving target. The process is not exactly experimentation, but it certainly is trial-and-error. It isn’t difficult to understand why parents search the Internet for safe, effective intervention(s).

Close followup is key:
The present gestalt of listening to a parent’s concern, observing an antsy child in the office, and handing out a ticket for more over-prescribed ‘band-aids’ seems unstoppable. It’s not only the type of intervention, but how the child is evaluated and what specific signs and symptoms are successfully addressed, given the myriad of side effects.

Importantly, children are constantly growing, evolving and experiencing internal and external changes. Dosing, frequency, timing, and type of successful therapy will change dramatically over time.

Conclusion:
When a medical professional announces that your child has ADHD without a detailed history, review of systems, physical examination and appropriate laboratory evaluations, the patient is getting short-changed. It can even be made worse by over-prescribing potent pharmaceutical agents.

Parents who research the ‘net will find the landscape quite confusing. The best advice is to find a doctor with the skill, experience and time to understand this complicated diagnosis.

Ten Must-Have Back-to-School Autism Supplies

Friday, August 15th, 2014

Forget pencils and notebooks. Here is my take on the most important items that children who exhibit signs and symptoms of ASD and ADHD really need to make it through the coming season:

10. A weighted vest, and other such functional products. Neural systems are on overload, so any/all sensory reducing strategies need to be dusted off and utilized. My son, a Special Ed teacher, reports that one of his favorites is Chewelry.

9. A special request for an IEP meeting to review everything agreed upon in the last IEP, and how the child has progressed.

8. A written, visible schedule. The previous school year’s busy agenda needs a re-boot. With non-preferred activities about to consume more time, acceptance and self-control become paramount, so clear expectations are a good start.

7. Sleep. Likewise, the body’s internal rhythms have gone on a summer vacation. Warm epsom salt baths are great to pave the way at bedtime. Chamomile is fine, and more difficult problems may be ameliorated with the administration of melatonin.

6. Supplements and medications. Children with ADHD are often given drug ‘vacations’ during the break. Appropriate dosing and timing may have changed as the summer progressed, so try getting things started a week or so early.

5. Healthy food. Unfortunately, schools do not often assist in this endeavor. If junior has been slipping off the diet, or eating too much junk, get back to basics.

4. An app to disable the iPhone. Really. The time spent on iPads, computers and video games needs to become severely limited.

3. Playtime. It is very difficult to transition from a season of freedom to one of academic drudgery and endless therapy sessions. Going to the park, ballgames, and other outdoor athletic activities is a basic part of being any kid. Even though physical activity is not as preferable as that smartphone, try to make it happen.

2. Soap. Stress cleanliness and get the child into the habit of washing their hands. To the extent that the school will cooperate, tissue dispensers, hand sanitizers and bathroom etiquette could provide some barrier to the onslaught of cooties.

1. A big dose of time and patience. As students fit into the new school year, so do teachers, administrators and other professionals need time to understand each child’s strengths and weaknesses.

Everyone remembers that first day back at school; anxiety, fear, excitation, and dread. The assault on the senses, social stresses and academic expectations are an even more tremendous hurdle for students with challenges in those very areas.

Most of all, parents’ love and understanding gets us all through those first inglorious days and weeks.

The Law, Antibiotics and Autism

Sunday, August 3rd, 2014

The Case:
A U.S. court ruled that the FDA is correct to continue to allow the administration of antibiotics to feed animals – even if they aren’t sick.
Argued: February 8, 2013 Decided: July 24, 2014

The Judges:
Robert Katzmann, Chief Judge, (has top notch credentials, and wrote the minority opinion.)
Gerard Lynch, Circuit Judge, (wrote 2-1 majority opinion). More about him later.
Katherine Forrest, District Judge, (a really rich, “celebrated litigatrix“).

The plaintiffs:
Natural Resources Defense Council – “One of the nation’s most powerful environmental groups… A credible and forceful advocate for stringent environmental protection.”
Center for Science in the Public Interest - Founded by 3 “scientists, CSPI carved out a niche as the organized voice… on nutrition, food safety, health and other issues… to educate the public, advocate government policies that are consistent with scientific evidence on health and environmental issues, and counter industry’s powerful influence on public opinion and public policies.”
Food Animal Concerns Trust – “Mission… is to improve the welfare of farm animals; address public health problems such as the safety of meat, milk, and eggs; broaden opportunities for family farmers; and reduce environmental pollution.”
Public Citizen, Inc. – “… serves as the people’s voice in the nation’s capital… To ensure that all citizens are represented in the halls of power.”
Union of Concerned Scientists – “puts rigorous, independent science to work to solve our planet’s most pressing problems. Joining with citizens across the country, we combine technical analysis and effective advocacy to create innovative, practical solutions for a healthy, safe, and sustainable future.”

The defendants:
Margaret Hamburg, commissioner of FDA. She is a Harvard-trained medical doctor, and appears to be a strong consumer advocate.
Bernadette Dunham, Director – Center for Veterinary Medicine. She was a clinician, professor, and has served as an advisor to several veterinary panels.
Kathleen Sebelius, Secretary of HHS, who took heat for the Obamacare Website debacle.

The Issue:
A lower court had decided that the FDA should have hearings about antibiotic use in animal feed. This challenge, brought by the FDA, was that they didn’t need to review the issue.

The Ruling:
The FDA won.
Rather than considering antibiotics in the feed as a public health hazard, Judge Lynch (good name) focused his ruling on “… a syntactically awkward variation that leaves the intended sequence ambiguous.” The Catch 22 is whether the drug can be withdrawn if it is thought to be unsafe, but it can’t be declared so until there is a hearing, which the FDA is not required to do.
The explanation contains 10 pages that document scientists’ concern about antibiotics in the animal feed. It is followed by 55 pages that explain why the ruling by the previous court was incorrect. “In an ideal world, Congress would have written a statute that clearly selects between one of these two possible readings. But as the statutory language is ambiguous, we must do our best to determine which of these two meanings Congress intended to convey.”

Discussion:
I asked former Florida Assistant Attorney General, Mr. Hugh Keough , about this case. “The dissent was by the Chief Judge of the District… Interesting discussion about antibiotics especially after all I’ve read from you about over prescription of antibiotics…”

“Indeed, the FDA has consistently reaffirmed that using low doses of antibiotics on healthy livestock to promote growth could accelerate the development of antibiotic‐resistant bacteria, causing “a mounting public health problem of global significance.”

The “decision allows the FDA to openly declare that a particular animal drug is unsafe, but then refuse to withdraw approval of that drug. It also gives the agency discretion to effectively ignore a public petition asking it to withdraw approval from an unsafe drug.” (Dissent).
Mr. Keough exclaimed, “17 Years ago the World Health Organization recommended ceasing! Uh, is it time to go vegetarian?”

Conclusions:
The plaintiff’s issue was the emergence of resistant strains of bacteria. However, there may be profound, as-yet undiscovered effects. Somehow, can’t the FDA see it’s way to erring on the side of caution?

In 1999, the Journal of Pediatrics, published a study documenting, “Unrecognized gastrointestinal disorders, especially reflux esophagitis and disaccharide malabsorption, may contribute to the behavioral problems of the non-verbal autistic patients.” If you don’t think that autism is an epidemic, and you don’t consider that childhood development could be affected by the overuse of antibiotics, then you wouldn’t ever know whether antibiotics in our food is a threat.

 Given this decision, it’s going to be a while until any change is made in this area.

 Don’t allow your doctor to prescribe antibiotics for every little illness, and don’t beg for them, either.

 Take strong probiotics – lots of colonies, with varied strains.

 Try to eat as ‘organic’ as possible (given that they are telling us the truth about ‘organic’).

 If we want better oversight, we should let our government know.

Smartphone Rules for Autism

Sunday, July 27th, 2014

There are a multitude of programs designed to engage, and hopefully enlighten communication-challenged youngsters. A great place to start is Autism Speaks’ Autism Apps webpage. That site contains a preferences filter, research ratings, and nearly 600 choices, as of this story.

The most affected and youngest patients with ASD seem to easily learn to navigate to their favorite game or YouTube video. Their facility in this arena frequently exceeds neuro-typical peers.

Since the landscape changes so quickly, specific programs are really not the issue. We have observed a new phenomenon of persistent play in developmentally delayed children who have easy access to their parents’ iPads, iPhones, etc.

Here are some of the issues that parents might consider when the child grabs for that partially broken, heavily armored, totally smeared and nearly unreadable device:

Even 1-year-olds are able to navigate the system. Parents should make sure that children are not merely doing visual-auditory stimming. What appears so cute, at first, can become a major annoyance. For some, just the credits of a favorite video or a certain song may seem quite fascinating. That is just a digital version of watching wheels, or a ceiling fan, spin. It’s not really play, and the time spent with this entertainment should be kept to a minimum.

Metabolic abnormalities found in our patients include a number of nutritional deficiencies. Vitamin D activation comes from the sun, not an iPad screen. Children must go outdoors and exercise. As old-fashioned and paternalistic as that aphorism sounds, it should be heeded, if parents have a sincere desire to help their children enjoy good health.

Try to avoid allowing such a compelling device to become the babysitter. With all of the variety, every child can find one or more apps that tickles their fancy. Busy parents may see the activity as a short break in their day – time to cook, take care of the other kids, or just relax. Unless the child is moved to another endeavor, the pattern could become a preferred, fixed, repetitive action that is difficult to manage.

Watching a small variety of videos, or various games on a device is still playing on the ‘pad. A core deficiency in autism is the existence of a narrow range of interests, so therapies should be targeted at promoting a diversity of experiences.

Apps that encourage learning basic concepts, such as number, color, letter and word recognition, can be a great educational aid. Once those skills are mastered, communication, starting with pointing, and skills that lead to sharing would be ideal.

The ultimate goal as toddlers mature is to be able to learn in a classroom with human teachers and classmates. Electronic programs can help prepare kids for the academic environment, but do the stated gains of any app promote the skills needed to succeed in school; such as, attending to the teacher, following verbal directions, and playing with other children?

Take advantage of this learning opportunity. Help your youngsters to get some socialization out of their digital experience. Join them as they master the games, and try to work on understanding how the app is somehow connecting to your children’s brains.

A final word of advice, then… don’t let the smartphone rule.

I Flunked the IEP

Saturday, June 14th, 2014

At this time of year, when Individualized Educational Plans are discussed and recommendations are offered about the coming year, parents are often unsure about optimal placement for their children affected with ASD.

If assigned to an Exceptional Student Education classroom with disruptive students, will their child copy the behaviors, in order to gain attention? Is being exposed to a great deal of ‘stimming’ a cause for concern? Will nascent speech be nurtured in a more neuro-typical classroom or ignored in a apraxic group? Are there youngsters who will become friends or others who promote bullying?

This is the conundrum faced by the parents of many of our recovering patients. The medical side of autism and ADHD is my primary concern. However, one family insisted that I voice my opinion regarding their 5-year-old’s upcoming formal classification. I agreed to assist by speaking with the appropriate school staff, including the teachers, administrators, school psychologist, and therapists.

For the first 20 minutes or so, each professional detailed, “hyperactive,” “lack of focus,” “easy distractibility,” and academic performance issues.

“What is your opinion, Dr. Udell?”
My answer, “It sounds as if you are describing the child’s immaturity.”

I expressed that the majority of medical professionals who heard these concerns would most certainly recommend stimulant medications (e.g. Adderall, Ritalin); if not now, then within the next few years. “Oh, no, Dr. Udell,” was the answer. “That’s not what we meant!” Regardless of staff intentions, most pediatricians, child psychologists, psychiatrists and child neurologists give the knee-jerk response – meds.

Recommendations:
Be realistic about what goals YOU expect in the next school year. For young children, speech acquisition and play are the most important skills. Occasionally, no school is likely achieve these goals, and parents should consider other options (home with appropriate therapies).

The school is expected to document progress in fine motor skills (e.g., drawing, writing, cutting), group activities (circle time, following directions) and academic skills (letters, colors, reading).  Will your child “make it” in that environment, or are those the biggest weaknesses?

Auditory, visual and sensory processing difficulties need to be addressed in order for children to succeed in a neuro-typical setting. Extra attention outside of school (OT, PT) can provide significant benefit.

The proven therapy for behavioral difficulties is ABA. Disruptive conduct cannot be ignored in a neuro-typical classroom, so any behavioral resources that the family can provide are paramount. Habits (such as face and hair ‘touching’) that appear “cute” in a toddler, may be unsettling in a 6-year-old, more-than-troubling in a pre-adolescent, and out-of-order in a teen.

When the teacher says, “Look at the chalkboard,” Junior has to respond appropriately. Kids need to look like they are attending, even if they aren’t. Often, the situation is quite the opposite – the child is listening, but adults misunderstand.

Don’t compare your child’s progress to that of the others in the class. Keep your eye on the main goals – independence and productivity.

Don’t have your doctor attend – I was an unhelpful distraction.
It’s back to letter writing for my practice.

In the best of circumstances, most children who are recovering from their ASD would do best in a neuro-typical classroom, with pullouts for extra services and tutoring, and a shadow to redirect. Obviously, that requires significant resources and the school’s cooperation. However, the need for stimulant medications would be greatly reduced.

It’s Not the Asperger’s Syndrome

Sunday, June 1st, 2014

Let’s face it; anyone who goes on a shooting rampage has some mental illness. Often, it seems there was a history of family turmoil, few friends, bullying, and lack of empathy. That does not define Asperger’s Syndrome, which is a developmental disorder.

Recent sensational violent acts by young men could be due to a number of conditions, including:
∗ ADHD with feelings of inferiority because of poor performance
∗ Schizophrenia
∗ Personality disorder
∗ Watching violent video games
∗ Oppositional Behavioral Disorder
∗ Acute or transient reactive psychosis
∗ Reactive Attachment Disorder
∗ Subject to abuse
∗ Temporary insanity
In deranged individuals, such as the Connecticut and California shooters, psychiatrists would probably entertain even more possibilities.

There is no precise manner to define Asperger’s Syndrome after someone expires. The conditions that explain impulsive conduct are inaccurate, at best. Psychiatric diagnoses need to be assessed in real-time by documentation of signs and symptoms. Regarding the recent carnage, family members (and their lawyer) reportedly claimed that Elliot Roger was “on the spectrum,” and suffered a long history of mental difficulties.

How about focusing on the histories of mental illness
with easy access to firearms?

The Autism Epidemic that has blighted the child development landscape of the 21st century is a mystery, with vague descriptors and the recent inclusion of many other developmental problems, including Asperger’s and PDD-NOS. The public is left to wonder, “Why so many killing sprees?” The media is quick to supply an answer, “Perhaps it is those autistic (Asperger’s) kids!”

I have examined scores of patients who fit criteria for the disorder. Effective communication is difficult; some are depressed, some understand and address their challenges, and others who say, “That is the way that I am.”

Key traits include early developmental delays, an unusual affect, restricted interests, decreased eye contact and sensory issues. They are usually very standoffish individuals who feel uncomfortable outside of their usual environment.

There is not a great deal of published information about the association between violence and Asperger’s syndrome. In one study, 31 of 37 of the patients (85%) had a possible or probable comorbid psychiatric disorder.

A 2010 follow-up paper concluded, “The mean percentage of registered convictions was similar to that in the general male population of Austria over the studied time period. A qualitative assessment of offence types in Asperger’s former patients suggests that the nature of offences does not differ from that in the general population. In this original cohort of Asperger’s patients, convictions were no more common than in the general male population.

We should be very skeptical about media pundits’ experience, statements and motives. Sensational reporting is unfair and irresponsible because it assigns to Asperger’s patients a stigma that they do not deserve. There are many more examples of productive individuals than violent criminals committing heinous acts due to their autism diagnosis.

Just because Asperger’s Syndrome is the “diagnosis du jour,” it doesn’t mean that there is a shred of proof that affected individuals commit brutal crimes or that they are any more prone to such violence than those who are not so classified.

International Meeting for Autism Research 2014

Sunday, May 18th, 2014

My medical lifetime has experienced several epidemics. Although such problems are devastating to families, we learn a great deal of general science by uncovering the secrets of each new disorder. Think of Legionnaire’s disease (bacteria), the Norwalk virus, helicobacter (stomach ulcers), etc. Regarding the conditions that now fall under an autism diagnosis, these are exciting times for study and discovery.

At this conference there were 1800 attendees from all over the world, and nearly 1000 research papers. It has been great watching this organization grow; bringing advances to the science of autism spectrum disorders.

What I Liked:
This years Advocate Award went to Peter Bell. He is a true contributor to autism. More than simply offer an acceptance speech, he did a great job of expressing to this diverse, but research-oriented group, his “Top 10 List” for audience understanding. That included finding causes and treatments, environmental associations, lifetime services, and recognizing patients’ humanity, with the urgency that a only parent could feel and express.

Then, there were the short conversations with the presenters. I spoke with a pediatric neurologist who presented his work on Vitamin B12 and folic acid. Another was a social worker, whose study concluded that the new DSM 5.0 would result in fewer diagnosed cases. I couldn’t agree less, so I was able to discuss it.

At lunchtime, I sat with a distinguished, rather humble, retiring psychologist from a prominent New York clinic who said, “maybe 5% of our patients report G-I problems.” I took the opportunity to offer, “Gee, that is awfully low. I would sure like to test those patients with my protocol.”

I spoke with a young researcher whose paper detailed the changes in the neuron-type cells of the intestines, which is work that will elucidate gut alterations that might explain various autistic features.

There are so many young and promising minds. Just as HIV research enriched our knowledge of DNA, RNA and viral-human interaction, autism is enhancing scientific understanding of the development and function of the brain.

What I Didn’t Like:
There were few papers and presentations about environmental and epigenetic effects leading to the epidemic. For that matter, there was little discussion about the presence of an epidemic, though I suppose that would have been preaching to the choir.

Also, I think that there needs to be more work on how co-morbidities play into ASD. As a clinician, I find that problems, such as those in the G-I system, sensory difficulties, sleep disorders and anxiety, need to be studied as the very fabric of the condition.

Finally, this is not so much of a complaint, as a fact of life, but there is so much to read and learn in just a few days. There just never seemed to be enough time.

Best Thing at the Meeting:
Dr. Fred Volkmar, Yale autism expert, got a Lifetime Achievement award. He is an energetic and fascinating teacher who noted how few treatment studies are yielding success, especially compared to the explosion in the volume of research. Dr. V actually expressed his frustration that much of the work is not actually getting to the parents and the children.

This famous professor expressed an understanding of how parents seek Internet answers in the absence of viable medical alternatives, which is such a rare point of view in the academic world.

Conclusion:
The knowledge and information that ripples from this scientific meeting and the people who continue this work will make a difference. Perhaps not one particular study or that trial, but by their dedication to becoming part of the solution, parents can be assured that you have champions on your side.

You can access the research abstracts here.

Assessing the Skills of Your Child with ASD and ADHD

Sunday, April 27th, 2014

How prepared is your child for school?
What is the best classroom for next semester?

Dr. Udell's Fish Tank

Dr. Udell’s Fish Tank

As the school year comes to a close, and plans are being made for appropriate placement next fall, these are the questions that parents of ASD and ADHD kids have to face. IEPs are generated to provide documentable services, and professional assistance is sought to understand choices that will best address your child’s situation.

The Examination
In order to help families evaluate these difficult choices, various points-of-view come into play. There is the school the child goes to, the one he is going to go to, the one that you want him or her to go to, the administrators, teachers, and all of the other professionals who interface with each child. At The Child Development Center, we have found that, by observing the actions of our children, the reactions of their parents, and the interactions with the staff as patients enter our playroom and gravitate toward the tropical fish tank, many of the skills that are under consideration may be appropriately assessed.

“Hi, did you see we’ve got baby fishies in the tank?” I ask. If mom or dad immediately interrupts, to prompt the child to listen to the doctor, there is a reason. Sometimes a parent will say, “Look at the doctor. What is his name?” Often, they will repeat my question – several times. It is the rare parent who, if the child doesn’t attend, let’s time pass to see what their child will do.
Symptom – The child doesn’t pay attention.

“Do you see the biggest fish?” Does the child look at me? At the tank? At the TV? “Do you see the rainbow fish?” “Do you see the treasure?”
Symptom – The child won’t focus.

“Where is the red fish… we have one red fish.” The child looks at the train table.
Symptom – The child is easily distractible.

If they point to the orange carp, that’s ok, but there are two of them.
“How many fish?” If they start to count, that is BIG.
Symptom – The child is really smart, and even though it LOOKS as if he isn’t listening, he actually does.

The Diagnosis
And, it’s not just the aquarium, of course. Many activities that take place in our playroom provide a framework about your child’s abilities and challenges. For many young children who do not seem to pay attention, can’t seem to focus and appear easily distracted, the diagnosis is immaturity, not attention deficit or hyperactivity. Stimulant medications and anti-anxiety drugs may not help the situation, and often make behaviors worse.

Making A Plan
Parents prefer their child to be with verbal, non-disruptive classmates. Often, special educational environments do not seem to fit their children’s needs. Here’s the bottom line for many of our recovering ASD patients: in the best of all worlds, each child would spend some time in a neuro-typical classroom for socialization, with pullouts for required therapies and academic challenges, and a shadow to redirect. Resource allocation will determine the combination that best fits each family’s situation.

Be realistic about what accomplishments you really want to see in the next school year. For the youngest patients, speech acquisition and play are the most important skills. Five and six year-olds need to get along with others and pay attention to the teacher; or at least, appear to pay attention. In elementary school, it is not in the child’s best interest to force too many academic challenges that affect self-esteem and create anxiety.

Therapies and homework need to be balanced with outdoor activities (golfing, swimming, martial arts, etc.). Do not force multi-player sports such as soccer, because of difficulty with eye contact. Importantly, find a way to limit video games and television stimming.

Conclusion
The world of autism evaluations includes tests such as the Autism Diagnostic Observation Schedule (ADOS), Psycho-educational Profile Exams (PEP), Modified Checklist for Autism in Toddlers (M-CHAT), the Clinical Global Impressions Scale (CGI) and many others.

Then, there is my fish tank.

Vitamin D for Autism and ADHD

Sunday, April 6th, 2014

One of the more common out-of-range laboratory findings in the children who come to our clinic is a low vitamin D level. Learning about the myriad effects of this important nutrient ought to encourage parents to ask their pediatric specialist to check the blood concentration when evaluating patients with ASD or ADHD.

Effects:

  1. Vitamin D enhances the intestinal absorption of:
    1. Calcium
    2. Iron
    3. Magnesium
    4. Phosphate
    5. Zinc
  2. It is involved with the immune system:
    1. Normal functioning
    2. Inflammatory response
  3. There are effects on neuromuscular functioning.
  4. Bone mineralization is influenced.
  5. The vitamin is involved with modulating genes that regulate cell growth, proliferation, differentiation and death.

Metabolism:
The sequential manner in which this hormone-like vitamin gets into the body, and becomes active, helps explain possible reasons for insufficiency, and observed effects.


 

Dietary Sources:
According to an interview on WebMD, “Surprisingly few foods contain vitamin D…” Dr. DeNoon lists “Super foods,” such as (wild caught) salmon, mackerel, shellfish and mushrooms. Mostly, though, humans were built to get our vitamin D through the skin, so foods are now fortified to make up the difference.
Based on bone health, and given acceptable calcium levels, dosages of 600 IU/d for non-seniors “meet the requirements of at least 97.5% of the population…” BTW, the RDA for vitamin D was derived based on conditions of minimal sun exposure.
There is apparently conflict among the experts, however, about the definition of standard levels. Recommended intakes for infants and children vary from 400IU to 1000IU per day, with unanswered questions about increases.

You can take too much:
This is a fat soluble product, meaning that it can accumulate and become toxic. That is why a doctor should evaluate and follow levels, especially in high-risk children.

Evaluation:
The laboratory evaluation is usually done by testing for blood levels of 25-hydroxy Vitamin D, which is NOT the active form. A calcitriol (1,25 di-hydroxy Vitamin D) level must be ordered separately. The results, and variation from the standards vary, depending on the laboratory. Calcium, zinc, iron and magnesium may be checked, as well.

Autism and ADHD
ASD patients do not represent a ‘normal’ population. RDAs are, in my opinion, the amount below which some neuro-typical people can get symptoms. It seems to me, “Low normal,” is “low.”
There are numerous reports of children spending less and less time outdoors in physical activity,
especially those ‘on the Spectrum’.
Many kids are picky eaters or have been placed on restricted diets
that might affect absorption and levels.

The dermatologists have warned about the dangers of ultraviolet exposure, so SPF 188 was invented and applied copiously.
Often, children have eczema and other skin conditions that
might interfere with normal metabolism.

The conversion of chemicals to the active form assumes a healthy circulation, liver and kidneys. Many of the patients do not appear in optimal health.
There are genetic disorders of calcium metabolism
that present with autism.
There is even evidence that maternal levels may play a role in ASD.

Mostly, however, I am not sure why
so many patients exhibit decreased vitamin D levels.

Treatment:
Children with values that are at, or below the low range of ‘normal’ (depending on the lab), are usually given”D3,” 1,000 – 2,000 IU extra per day.

Treated patients are re-evaluated by periodic testing, plus documentation of daily supplemental intake.
Positive effects, such as a healthier immune system, are usually noticed within a month or two of getting the correct dose. Sometimes, sleep improves (try giving at night). The other therapies appear to work more efficiently; there appears to be better cognition, focus, and eye contact as vitamin D levels are normalized.

Conclusions:
It is difficult to sift through, and pinpoint, the specific biomedical intervention that leads to healthier and happier children. “Documentation,” as they say, “is lacking.” It certainly feels as if adding vitamin D3, when it is low or deficient, helps practitioners achieve improvements in signs and symptoms of ASD.

Oral supplementation is inexpensive, usually well-tolerated by the child, can be followed by documenting the course of treatment and laboratory confirmation.

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Brian D. Udell MD
6974 Griffin Road
Davie
FL 33314
Office phone – 954-873-8413
Fax – 954-792-2424

Email bdumd@childdev.org
Website http://www.childdev.org

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