Schafer Autism Report

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Friday February 17, 2012                                       Vol. 16 No. 6



AUTISM CALENDAR DEADLINE
February 24
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For March 2012

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RESEARCH

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 Deficits

Augmented Play Helps Children With Autism

Motor Impairments Appear to Be a Characteristic of Autism

PEOPLE
Court Defers Judgment On MMR Appeal

Autistic Toddler Stuck Inside Public Bathroom During High Pressured Washing

EVENTS
Dr. Wakefield: The Fight for Truth & Justice Fundraiser



RESEARCH

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 world."
      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 Cause Autism

      By Nancy Walsh, Staff Writer, MedPage Today



      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 suggested.
      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 (P=0.56).
      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 wrote.
      
• • •

Common Flame Retardant Linked to Social, Behavioral and Learning Deficits



      ScienceDaily — 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 Center.
      "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 development.
      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 children.
      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 spectrum disorder.
      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 Autism


Augmented knights-castle playset. (Credit: Image courtesy of Inderscience)

      ScienceDaily — 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 addressed.
      
• • •

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

      HealthDay 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 other kids."
      While the study uncovered an association between autism and motor impairments, it did not prove a cause-and-effect relationship.

• • •

PEOPLE

Court Defers Judgment On MMR Appeal

     
news.uk.msn.com

      Professor John Walker-Smith was struck 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 fair hearing.
      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 Washing

      By Jessica King Permalink

      Toddler gets caught inside self cleaning 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.

• • •

EVENTS

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 truth.
      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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