This Week in Autism: Moms' Weight, Quick Testing, and 'Game-Changing' TechnologyJoslyn Gray
Once again, autism news is coming fast and furious this week, and it’s only Wednesday. So far we’ve got a study that blames pregnant mom’s weight as a possible trigger for autism, news of a ground-breakingly fast screening tool, and a look at how parents, funding, and technology all come together to push research advancements.
File Under: Please Hand Me a Cupcake With That Side Helping of Guilt
Study: Obesity in Pregnant Moms Linked to Autism in Children
The same researchers that found a suspected link between autistic children and the use of anti-depressants in pregnancy have released a study showing that autism is significantly more common in women who were obese or had diabetic complications during pregnancy. Researchers at the UC Davis Mind Institute in California found that mothers who were obese were 67 percent more likely to have a child with ASD than normal-weight mothers without diabetes or hypertension, and were more than twice as likely to have a child with another developmental disorder. The study looked at 1,004 mother-child pairs.
The study authors note that obesity is a significant risk factor for diabetes and hypertension, and is characterized by increased insulin resistance and chronic inflammation, as are diabetes and hypertension. In diabetic, and possibility pre-diabetic pregnancies, poorly regulated maternal glucose can result in prolonged fetal exposure to elevated maternal glucose levels, which raises fetal insulin production, resulting in chronic fetal exposure to high levels of insulin.
Because elevated insulin production requires greater oxygen use this may result in depleted oxygen supply for the fetus. Diabetes also may result in fetal iron deficiency. Both conditions can adversely affect fetal brain development, the authors said.
On a personal note, this study makes me nervous. There’s enough guilt involved in any parenting, but it really goes off the charts in special needs parenting. There is also a very long history of blaming mothers for autism, especially the whole “refrigerator mothers” theory. However, this is a decent-sized study, and the numbers are startling. It’s important research, and I’m hoping that more work will be done in this area to see if the results are replicated.
As for myself, I gained the exact same number of pounds with each of my three pregnancies. I did not have gestational diabetes, but I did have hypertension at the end of each of my pregnancies. One of my twins is autistic; one is not. One of my singletons is autistic; one is not. Historically, the women in my family do not gain much weight in pregnancy, and yet have spectrum-y kids anyway. Honestly, given our family’s genetic lineage, I believe that those two kids would be autistic no matter what I did in my pregnancy.
I think most women already know that maintaining a healthy weight during pregnancy is important to both mother and baby for a huge number of reasons. If you’re pregnant and freaking out right now, please talk to your OB about how you can best stay healthy during your pregnancy.
File Under: Stuff You Can Actually Do to Help
Autism Brain Science Moving ‘Stunningly Fast,’ Technology Is ‘Game-Changing’
Technology, funding, and family participation in research are coming together to move autism research at a “stunningly fast” pace, reports USA Today, with a Stanford University neurobiologist calling this time “the beginning of a revolution.”
The Center for Autism Research at the Children’s Hospital of Philadelphia is using sophisticated new imaging technology doctors to examine the pathways between brain regions.
Parents have helped make some of the advances possible by pushing for funding that is now bearing fruit, says Robert Schultz, director of the Center for Autism Research at Children’s Hospital. Technological advances in imaging, stem cell science, gene sequencing and computing have opened doors as well. In only a few years, it will be cheaper to sequence an autistic child’s genetic blueprint than to perform an intensive, one-on-one behavioral examination now performed when diagnosing the condition, Schultz says.
It’s important for parents of children on the spectrum, and for adults on the spectrum, to know that this research comes about not only because of funding, but because people participate in studies. Families in the Philadelphia area can register to participate in autism research studies at the Children’s Hospital of Philadelphia’s Center for Autism Research by visiting the website autismMatch. Families and individuals in other areas can contact their local children’s hospital to find places that need study participants.
File Under: It Took 12 Months to Have My Daughter’s Asperger Syndrome Diagnosed
Harvard Researcher Develops Autism Screening Tool That Takes Only Minutes
Harvard University researcher Dennis P. Wall says he has developed a web-based tool that accurately screens for autism within minutes, combining computer algorithms, a seven-point parent questionnaire, and a home video clip of the child playing. TIME Magazine reports that some autism experts are “so skeptical they’re not even willing to speak on the record about it,” which makes approximately zero sense to me. If it’s that bad an idea, why is anyone afraid to comment on it?
Thorough autism evaluations commonly use the time-intensive, behavior-based Autism Diagnostic Observation Schedule (ADOS), which evaluates social interaction, language impairments and autism-specific behaviors, and the 93-question Autism Diagnostic Interview, Revised (ADI-R). Toddlers between the ages of 18 and 24 months can be screened with the Modified Checklist for Autism in Toddlers (M-CHAT). These evaluations are costly and take hours to complete–once they’re finally scheduled. The process of requesting the evaluation, scheduling, completing, and getting the written report can take months.
“Our goal is to bridge the gap and take it from 18 months to days,” Wall told TIME. “The gold standard tests take too much time. We need tests that are as good but can be administered at a rate that scales with the increasing size of the population that’s at risk.”
Wall says his screening results compare favorably with the longer, more traditional tools. His results, published this week in Translational Psychiatry, showed that the quicker screening had nearly 100% sensitivity.
The American Academy of Pediatrics recommends that pediatricians screen all children, regardless of risk, for autism symptoms at the ages of 18 months and 24 months. However, the AAP recommends delaying the screening to 30 months for children who were very premature.
(Photo Credit: iStockphoto)
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