February 17, 2012
Vol. 16 No. 6
AUTISM CALENDAR DEADLINE
For March 2012
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Autism Signs Appear In Tot Brains As Early As 6 Months
Mercury at Low Levels Unlikely to Cause Autism
Common Flame Retardant Linked to Social, Behavioral and Learning
Augmented Play Helps Children With Autism
Motor Impairments Appear to Be a Characteristic of Autism
Court Defers Judgment On MMR Appeal
Autistic Toddler Stuck Inside Public Bathroom During High Pressured
Dr. Wakefield: The Fight for Truth & Justice Fundraiser
Autism Signs Appear In Tot Brains As
Early As 6 Months
By Karen Rowan Foxnews
The early signs of autism are visible in
the brains of 6-month-old infants, a new study finds, suggesting that
future treatments could be given at this time, to lessen the impact of
the disorder on children.
Researchers looked at how the brain
develops in early life, and found that tracts of white matter that
connect different regions of the brain didn't form as quickly in
children who later developed autism, compared with kids who didn't
develop the disorder.
"The way the wiring was changing was
dampened" in the children with autism, said study researcher Jason
Wolff, who studies developmental disabilities at the University of
North Carolina, Chapel Hill. "It was a more blunted change over time,
in how the brain was being wired,"
In contrast, in the brains of infants
who did not later develop autism, white matter tracts were swiftly
forming, Wolff said. "Their brains were organizing themselves in a
pretty rapid fashion."
The findings suggest that during a
child's first year, "there is a potential to intervene, to disrupt
autism before it becomes entrenched," Wolff said. "There are a lot of
possibilities to improve outcomes for these children."
The study is published today (Feb. 17)
in the American
Journal of Psychiatry.
A crucial time The first year of life is
an important time in brain development, and is also when the first
symptoms of autism start to appear, Wolff said.
In the study, the researchers looked at
the brains of 92 infants, when they were 6 months, 1 year and 2 years
old. All of the children had a sibling with autism; research shows such
children have a higher risk of developing the disorder themselves.
The researchers used a brain scan called
diffusion tensor imaging, a type of MRI scan which allowed them to see
changes in the brain's organization over time.
When the kids were 2 years old, 28 had
developed autism, while 64 had not. The researchers looked back at the
early brain scans, to see if there were differences between the groups.
"We looked at pathways that connect
brain regions to each other, and 12 out of 15 were different in kids
with autism," Wolff said.
Previous studies had found differences
in brain volume in infants of this age, and other researchers had
looked at white matter tracts in older children with autism, and
adults, but the structures had not been examined before in infants so
young, Wolff said.
The fact that so many of the tracts were
affected shows that autism is a "whole-brain phenomenon," Wolff said.
"There are widespread differences" in the brains of people with the
disorder, he said.
What's causing the brain differences? As
to what might be causing these brain differences, it's too early to
say, Wolff said. But the findings are consistent with what researchers
suspect about what triggers autism's development, he said, "there's a
complex interaction between genes, and a child's experiences with the
And while the brain scans of the two
groups of children certainly revealed their differences, those scans
are not at the point where they could be used to diagnose the disorder
in a 6-month-old, Wolff emphasized.
But the findings help researchers better
understand how the disorder develops.
"It was really important to see that
this was an evolving process," Wolff said. Kids don't just suddenly
become autistic, "getting there is a journey," he said.
The researchers will continue to follow
some of the children in the study until they are 3 years old, and will
continue to enroll more children in the study, Wolff said.
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Mercury at Low Levels Unlikely to
By Nancy Walsh, Staff Writer, MedPage
Reviewed by Robert Jasmer, MD; Associate
Clinical Professor of Medicine, University of California, San Francisco
and Dorothy Caputo, MA, RN, BC-ADM, CDE, Nurse Planner
Low-level mercury exposure is unlikely
to contribute to autism, although further work will be needed for a
definitive conclusion to this controversy, a new British study
Mercury levels in urine did not differ
between children with autism and controls, regardless of whether values
below the limit of detection, which was 0.07 µg/L, were counted
as zero (P=0.162) or as 0.07 µg/L (P=0.156), Barry Wright, MD, of
the North Yorkshire and York Primary Care Trust in York, and colleagues
reported online in PLoS One.
Exposure to environmental mercury in
high doses can be highly toxic, and even lethal.
Certain groups have persistently argued
that mercury in thimerosal-containing vaccines also could exert
neurotoxic effects on young children, with the result that vaccination
rates have fallen and the incidence of measles and mumps has risen.
"This was proposed despite the fact that
the mercury compound in vaccines, ethylmercury, cannot easily pass
through the blood-brain barrier as methylmercury can and is associated
with few central nervous system problems in environmental health
research," wrote Wright and colleagues.
Further arguing against the
mercury-autism link is the observation that rates of autism have
continued to increase even after thimerosal was dropped from vaccines
more than a decade ago.
Nonetheless, some researchers have
hypothesized that autistic children have an impairment in the ability
to excrete mercury, after analysis of hair revealed low concentrations
of various heavy metals.
To examine this possibility, the
researchers enrolled 54 children with autism spectrum disorders, 121
healthy children attending mainstream schools, 34 who attended special
schools for learning disabilities, and 42 siblings of autistic children.
Because some degree of mercury exposure
could be expected in children who had amalgam fillings in their teeth,
Wright's group controlled for the number of fillings, which was
slightly lower in the autism group.
They also adjusted for urine
concentration and body mass by correcting for creatinine, and as with
the unadjusted analysis, found no difference among the groups of
children in urinary excretion of mercury.
Further adjustment for age, sex, and
number of fillings once again revealed no differences, whether values
below the limit of detection were calculated as zero or 0.07 µg/L
Tests for other heavy metals such as
lithium (P=0.344), manganese (P=0.613), and copper (P=0.391) also
turned up no differences.
The investigators noted that their
findings should be interpreted with caution, however, because of the
possible effects of a small number of children in the autism and
special school groups whose levels were considerably higher.
They also noted that the study
population was somewhat small, and that 24-hour urine collections were
not done because of difficulties undertaking this in children with
difficulties such as autism.
"This study does not lend support for
widespread mercury metabolism problems in autism, but given small
numbers of outliers it does suggest further research is warranted to
better understand whether a subgroup with autism and/or learning
disabilities have mercury poisoning or excretion difficulties," they
• • •
Common Flame Retardant Linked to
Social, Behavioral and Learning
— Mice genetically
engineered to be susceptible to autism-like behaviors that were exposed
to a common flame retardant were less fertile and their offspring were
smaller, less sociable and demonstrated marked deficits in learning and
long-term memory when compared with the offspring of normal unexposed
mice, a study by researchers at UC Davis has found. The researchers
said the study is the first to link genetics and epigenetics with
exposure to a flame retardant chemical.
The research was published online
February 16 in the journal Human Molecular Genetics. It will be
presented during a symposium on Feb. 18, at the annual meeting of the
American Association for the Advancement of Science (AAAS) by Janine
LaSalle, a professor in the Department of Medical Microbiology and
Immunology in the UC Davis School of Medicine and the UC Davis Genome
"This study highlights the interaction
between epigenetics and the effects of early exposure to flame
retardants," said Janine LaSalle, the study's senior author and a
researcher affiliated with the UC Davis MIND Institute. "Our
experiments with wild-type and mutant mice indicate that exposure to
flame retardants presents an independent risk of neurodevelopmental
deficits associated with reduced sociability and learning."
Epigenetics describes the heritable
changes in gene expression caused by mechanisms other than those in the
DNA sequence. One such mechanism is DNA methylation, in which genes are
silenced when their activation no longer is required. DNA methylation
is essential for normal development. The researchers chose a mouse that
was genetically and epigenetically susceptible to social behavioral
deficits in order to understand the potential effect of this
environmental pollutant on genetically susceptible humans.
LaSalle and her colleagues examined the
effects of the chemical BDE-47 (Tetrabromodiphenl ether), a member of
the class of flame retardants called polybrominated diphenylethers, or
PBDEs. PBDEs have been used in a wide range of products, including
electronics, bedding, carpeting and furniture. They have been shown to
persist in the environment and accumulate in living organisms, and
toxicological testing has found that they may cause liver toxicity,
thyroid toxicity and neurodevelopmental toxicity, according to the U.S.
Environmental Protection Agency. BDE-47 is the PBDE found at highest
concentrations in human blood and breast milk, raising concerns about
its potential neurotoxic effects during pregnancy and neonatal
The research was conducted in the
offspring of mice genetically engineered for the autism phenotype found
in Rett syndrome, a disorder that occurs primarily in females and
causes regression in expressive language, motor skills and social
reciprocity in late infancy. The condition affects about 1 in 10,000
Autism spectrum disorders are a group of
neurodevelopmental disabilities that can cause significant social,
communication and behavioral deficits. The U.S. Centers for Disease
Control and Prevention estimates that an average of 1 in 110 children
born in the United States today will be diagnosed with an autism
Rett syndrome is causally linked to
defects in the methyl-CpG-binding protein 2 gene MECP2 situated on the
X chromosome. Mutations in MECP2 result in a nonfunctional MeCP2
protein, which is required for normal brain development. The
researchers evaluated the effects of exposure to BDE-47 on mice
genetically engineered to have mutations in MECP2 and their offspring,
or pups. The genetically engineered Mecp2 mother mice, or dams, were
bred with non-mutant wild-type males. The dams were monitored for 10
weeks -- for four weeks prior to conception, three weeks during
gestation and three weeks of lactation. They were then compared with a
control group of normal, unexposed dams and pups over several
generations and hundreds of mice.
The study found that that the weights of
the pups of the lactating BDE-47-exposed dams were diminished when
compared with the controls, as were their survival rates. To assess the
effects of the flame retardant exposure on the pups and their
genotypes, the researchers placed them through more than 10 cognitive,
social and physical tests.
Female offspring of dams exposed with
BDE-47 spent half as much time interacting with another mouse in a
10-minute sociability test compared to controls. The reduced
sociability in BDE-47 exposed females corresponded to reduced DNA
methylation in females regardless of genotype. In addition, genetic and
environmental interaction effects in this study were specifically
observed in females.
In a short-term memory test of social
novelty, although all mice showed the expected preference for
interacting with a novel over a familiar mouse, BDE-47-exposed mutant
female mice spent about half as much time interacting with the familiar
mouse than their non-mutant littermates. In a long-term memory test of
swimming to reach a hidden platform in a cloudy pool, female mice who
were both mutant and BDE-47 exposed did not learn to reach the platform
faster after fourdays of training. These behavioral changes in social
and cognitive learning specifically in the interaction group
corresponded to changes in a known epigenetic regulator of DNA
methylation in brain, DNA methyltransferase 3a (Dnmt3a).
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Augmented Play Helps Children With
Augmented knights-castle playset. (Credit: Image courtesy of
— Making play sets more
interactive and giving children with autism greater opportunities to
control and add content of their own to the game could improve
cooperative play with other children as well as giving them greater
confidence in understanding how objects interact.
William Farr and Nicola Yuill of the
University of Sussex, UK and Steve Hinske of ETH Zurich, Switzerland,
explain that children with autism are often affected not only by social
difficulties, but also have an impaired understanding of the way
objects interact. They have investigated how toys, such as the
"Augmented Knight's Castle" (AKC) might be adapted to be more
beneficial to those children and perhaps even act as a therapeutic tool.
Writing in the International Journal of
Arts and Technology, the team,from the Children and Technology Lab at
the University of Sussex explains how they have examined childhood
playexplains how they have examined childhood play with the popular
Playmobil Knight's Castle play set, which as the name would suggest
comprises a toy castle with various obvious components of towers,
parapets, a moat and the various model people that can be used in
imaginative play to enact various roles within the play set.
The team has thus augmented the play set
by adding a wireless networking system and radio frequency
identification tags (RFIDs) to the components to add feedback and
programmable aspects to the play set. The play set might thus produce
sound or movement given certain actions by the child playing with the
toys. Their tests with autistic children volunteered to play with the
AKC reveal promising results that are allowing the team to conclude
that such adapted play sets can improve understanding and interest in
the play set itself, but more importantly boost the level of
interaction with other children playing with the toys. Indeed, the team
noticed more parallel and cooperative play and less solitary play with
the fully configurable setup for the AKC. They add that autistic
children playing with the configurable AKC were also more inclined to
actively play with the Playmobil figures.
Children with autism commonly struggle
to understand the world around them, which means control over their own
environment presents them with daily challenges, the team says. By
offering a configurable play set that incorporates feedback systems
that respond to how the children are playing, they hope to open up new
avenues to children with autism through an increased sense of control.
The AKC could reduce isolation for children with autism by giving them
an increased understanding of how to control and engage with objects
and by extension other children.
"There is potential for systems like the
AKC to be used in a therapeutic way," the team says. They add that the
play set could also be used diagnostically by allowing evidence to be
compiled to provide a baseline against which a child's position on the
autistic spectrum could be aligned and help improve a borderline
diagnosis so that a child's ambiguous impairments might be better
• • •
Motor Impairments Appear to Be a
Characteristic of Autism
Study suggests that the disorder itself may be behind patients'
difficulty with physical skills -- Robert Preidt
News - Autism itself seems to
be responsible for the problems children with the disorder have in
developing motor skills such as running, throwing a ball and learning
to write, according to a new study.
Previously, it wasn't clear whether
these motor skill difficulties ran in families or were linked to
autism, said the researchers at the Washington University School of
Medicine in St. Louis.
The investigators studied children from
67 families that had at least one child with autism spectrum disorder
and a sibling in the same age group. Twenty-nine families had two
children with autism, including six identical twins, and 48 families
had only one child with the disorder.
The children were asked to perform a
range of motor skills, including push-ups, running, throwing a ball,
placing pegs in a pegboard, imitating movements, cutting with scissors
and copying forms.
The test results showed that 83 percent
of the children with an autism spectrum disorder were below average in
motor skills, while their siblings without the disorder generally
scored in the normal range, according to the study released online in
advance of publication in an upcoming print issue of the journal Autism.
Identical twins had similar scores.
Non-twin siblings who each had autism had similar scores. But scores
were markedly different in sibling pairs in which one child had autism
and the other did not, the researchers found.
"From our results, it looks like motor
impairments may be part of the autism diagnosis, rather than a trait
genetically carried in the family," lead author Claudia List Hilton, an
assistant professor in occupational therapy and an instructor in
psychiatry, said in a university news release. "That suggests that
motor impairments are a core characteristic of the diagnosis."
And, she said, "the data suggests that
genes play a role in the motor impairments observed in those with
autism spectrum disorder. This is further evidence that autism spectrum
disorder is a largely genetic disorder."
Among children with autism, the lower
their motor skills' score, the greater their degree of social
impairment and severity of autism.
"Kids who have difficulty with motor
skills might have trouble with what we think are simple things like
brushing their teeth, buttoning, snapping or starting a zipper --
things that are so basic to being independent, but would cause other
problems at school," Hilton said. "They would need to have an aide or
someone helping them, and that would set them off as different from the
While the study uncovered an association
between autism and motor impairments, it did not prove a
• • •
Court Defers Judgment On MMR Appeal
Professor John Walker-Smith
off by the General Medical Council
The High Court has reserved judgment on
whether the decision to strike off an eminent doctor over the MMR jab
controversy is lawful.
A judge said the complex case of
Professor John Walker-Smith, who was found guilty of serious
professional misconduct, had "greatly troubled" him.
In May 2010, the professor lost his
licence to practise along with Dr Andrew Wakefield, the doctor who
triggered a global scare about the MMR vaccine. The striking-off order
was made subject to appeal, and over the last five days lawyers for the
professor have argued at London's High Court that he did not receive a
A GMC fitness to practise panel found
that he had subjected children to investigation as part of a research
project related to autism and the MMR vaccine without seeking approval
from the Ethics Committee. If the professor wins his appeal it will
mean he has cleared his name as the GMC indicated it would not ask for
the case to be remitted for a fresh hearing.
Stephen Miller QC, appearing for the
professor, told the court the disciplinary findings were seriously
flawed and must be quashed. He said investigations, including lumbar
punctures and colonoscopies, were carried out because they were
clinically indicated and were necessary for the purposes of diagnosis
and treatment - not for a research project.
Mr Miller said: "His main reason for
doing so was not to test hypotheses but to benefit individual patients.
We suggest all the evidence backs him up - all the evidence which,
unfortunately (the panel) ignored".
In court the GMC admitted that
"inadequate reasons" may have been given by the disciplinary panel when
explaining its findings on disputed expert evidence. But Joanna Glynn
QC, appearing for the GMC, said: "In spite of inadequate reasons it is
quite clear on overwhelming evidence that the charges are made out."
She told the judge the case was of
considerable public interest as it concerned "the effective regulation
of research" in the context "of vulnerable patients, desperate families
and invasive procedures which inevitably carry some risk".
The professor's appeal is being
supported by the parents of many children with autism and bowel disease
seen by him at the Royal Free Hospital, north London, up to his
retirement in 2001. They say one consequence of the GMC's decision is
that families now face serious difficulties in finding NHS treatment
for autistic children with bowel disease.
The panel's verdict followed 217 days of
deliberation, making it the longest disciplinary case in the GMC's
152-year history. It came 12 years after a 1998 paper in the Lancet
suggested a link between the vaccine, bowel disease and autism -
resulting in a plunge in the number of children having the vaccination.
In 2004, the Lancet announced a partial retraction, and 10 of the 13
authors disowned it.
• • •
Autistic Toddler Stuck Inside Public
Bathroom During High Pressured
By Jessica King Permalink
Toddler gets caught inside
toilet just like this one, can't get out. Photo via Wiki Commons.
A New Zealand toddler found himself
stuck inside a self cleaning, public bathroom as he was pummeled with
water and cleaning solution. The victim was 3-year-old Zachery Wakelin
who also suffers from Autism. The boy reportedly ran ahead of his
mother last Thursday to use the toilet. After he was inside, he shut
the door and that’s when a recorded message announced that a wash cycle
was about to begin.The mother tried to open the door, however, the door
is made so that it automatically locks once it starts preparing to self
wash. The youngster was locked inside for two wash cycles lasting about
10 minutes. Passerby’s tried to rescue the tot but were unsuccessful in
trying to kick the door in.
The toilet system was part of the
‘exeloo’ or automatic toilet self cleaning system used in much of
Europe and Australia, similar to bathrooms found at beaches or parks
around the U.S. According to the exeloo website, such automated toilet
units ‘provide an automated wash down system that washes the unit down
with disinfectant and water sprays after a preset number of uses then
dries the surfaces with high pressure fans before becoming available
for the next user.’
The boy’s mother, Jessie Wakelin, told
TV NZ that her son is now terrified to use the bathroom. She said it
was difficult hearing him scream and not being able to do anything
about it. She also said she didn’t know if his screaming was because
the water was really cold or really hot.
The restroom is supposed to be equipped
with safety measures to prevent someone from being trapped inside but
reportedly those fail-safes were calibrated incorrectly. The bathroom,
which is owned by the city of Stirling Point in New Zealand, says they
are looking into the matter and have locked the unit so it cannot be
used until it is properly fixed.
• • •
Dr. Wakefield: The Fight for Truth
& Justice Fundraiser
Friday, March 2, 7:00pm-10:30 Hyatt
Regency, 200 South Pine Avenue, Long Beach, CA
A great wrong has been done to our
community. On January 5, 2011 the British Medical Journal (BMJ) called
Dr. Andrew J. Wakefield a fraud and later a criminal. The blow was
aimed at Wakefield, but the target was you, and me, and our families.
Since then it’s open season on our rights, our experiences and the
The time has come to end the wrong. The
time has come to fight. On January 3, 2012 Dr. Wakefield filed a
defamation lawsuit in Travis County District Court, Texas, against the
BMJ, Fiona Godlee, the journal’s editor, and Brian Deer, the reporter.
It is a new day. We’re fighting
back. Our voices will be heard. Together, with faith in each other, we
will correct the great injustice that has been done to Dr. Wakefield
and our community.
The dawn of our new day has a start
date, Friday, March 2. In his first public appearance since filing the
defamation lawsuit Dr. Wakefield will be the guest of honor at the
Fight for Truth & Justice Fundraiser. In a celebration of unity and
common purpose the autism and health freedom movements are coming
together to rally around Dr. Wakefield and join the fight.
Come mix, mingle, eat and drink with old
friends and new, along with leaders in both the autism and health
freedom communities. Wakefield’s fight is our fight, for truth and
justice. This is sure to be a unique and special evening that you won't
want to miss.
Attendees include: Andy Wakefield, Dan
Olmsted, David Lewis, Julian Whitaker, Robert Scott Bell and more!
Tickets are $100 in advance, $125 at the
door. Seating is limited. Admission includes food, one drink ticket,
and a gift bag valued at over $50. Buy tickets online here, at the
AutismOne booth at the Expo or
at the door. For questions, call Ed at 714.680.0792.
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